Image: Flood evacuees
Brahima Ouedraogo  /  AP
People displaced by flooding take refuge with their belongings in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Wednesday.
updated 9/4/2009 6:49:08 PM ET 2009-09-04T22:49:08

Heavy flooding is hitting some 350,000 people across West Africa, killing at least 25 in Ghana and seven in Burkina Faso, U.N. officials said Friday.

The most badly affected appears to be Burkina Faso, where 110,000 have been forced to flee their homes, mainly in the capital, Ouagadougou.

On Friday, a seven-member assessment team from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was expected to arrive in Ouagadougou. The country's main hospital is three-quarters flooded, requiring early discharges and massive evacuations of patients, some with infectious diseases.

Benin, too, has been flooded since July, and a U.N. team is there assessing its needs. Also hard hit are the Western African nations of Guinea, Niger and Senegal.

Elisabeth Byrs, the spokeswoman for OCHA in Geneva, Switzerland, said the amount of rain that fell Thursday in Ouagadougou equaled a quarter of all Burkina Faso's typical annual rainfall.

"It was a deluge," she told U.N. Radio. "But you have also Ghana, where 25 people died from the bad weather and from the floods. The death toll is likely to increase in the coming days."

In Burkina Faso, Minister of Social Welfare Pascaline Tamini said on state radio Wednesday that she expected the number of people affected to grow significantly in the coming hours. President Blaise Compaore appealed to the international community for help.

Flood damages in the nation had risen to $152 million as of Friday, according to Prime Minister Tertius Zongo. That includes a dam destroyed and 12 bridges damaged in Ouagadougou and a dam destroyed in the northern Sahel region.

The rain in Ouagadougou this week has been the worst there in recent memory. But heavy rain two years ago caused flooding throughout the country, killing 84 people and displacing 146,000.

Local authorities have been forced to open the main gate of a hydroelectric dam in the Volta River basin, near the Ghana border, threatening people in both countries with additional flooding, according to the U.N.

When the state-run electricity company opened the dam's gate on Friday morning, the water was less than 3 inches from reaching the dam's capacity, according to Venance Bouda, the firm's director of hydroelectric power.

"Even when we operate normally and release water, some people drown while crossing (the river) downstream," Bouda said. "Cultivated land on the reservoir's shores and further upstream will be flooded. We warn riverside residents to stay away from the shores."

It is only the sixth time since the dam was built in 1994 that the dam had to be opened; an instance two years ago caused flooding in parts of northern Ghana.

Ghana officials told the U.N. they had less than a day's notice before the gate was opened but that no one could have expected the rainfall to fill the reservoir so quickly.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments