Flooding across Ethiopia has left 626 confirmed dead and police said Wednesday they feared the toll would rise dramatically.
Rivers in southern, northern and eastern Ethiopia burst their banks after 11 days of heavy rains, and more rain was expected. The scale of the disaster is overwhelming impoverished Ethiopia’s rescue efforts, which have been bolstered by U.N. and other international agencies.
The death toll in southern Ethiopia was 364, and police there said it could reach 1,000. Another 256 were killed in the east and six in the north. According to the United Nations 300 people are still missing in the east.
Police said they were calling off the search for bodies in eastern Ethiopia, but are continuing their search and rescue in the south.
“Things are getting out of control. We are preparing ourselves for up to a 1,000 dead bodies from this flood alone. We need additional helicopters and boats for rescuing,” said Inspector
Daniel Gezahenge, a spokesman for the southern regional police.
‘Anything that can help’
Sisay Tadesse, spokesman for the government-run Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Agency, said that some donor countries are preparing to send search and rescue teams, but he did not name the countries.
Daniel said they were burying most bodies immediately to prevent a disease outbreak. The nearest morgue was more than 124 miles away from the flood area.
“We are appealing to aid agencies and the international community for medical supplies, food, clean water, blankets and anything that can help,” said Daniel. “There are dead bodies and animals in the water making the likelihood for a disease outbreak very high.”
Daniel said that the water level is rising along River Kibish, which is near the Omo Valley in the south, where as many as 10,000 people have been stranded.
‘Very alarming on the ground’
Sisay said the government is planning emergency evacuations of villages that are threatened.
“The situation is very alarming on the ground,” he said. “For the time being we have 14 boats in the rescue effort. We are doing our best to rescue people in the threatened areas.”
Abnezer Ngowi, the U.N. World Food Program’s acting country director in Ethiopia, said that the floods are an “unprecedented disaster,” in the country.
“It is a terrible situation, children are being orphaned and residents in the communities are undergoing a horrible event, the loss of life due to the floods is terrible,” said Ngowi.
Poor hygiene, sanitation
Rescuers fear a cholera outbreak among survivors. Cholera is transmitted through contaminated water and is linked to poor hygiene, overcrowding and bad sanitation. Symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting, which can kill unless treated quickly.
The rains, which usually fall between June and September, are some of the heaviest seen in a country that frequently suffers severe drought and where millions depend on food aid.
Ethiopia’s weather agency predicted more heavy rains in the coming days, prompting the government to issue flood warnings along the country’s longest river, the Awash, which stretches 746 miles.