Pelagie, in pink, who said her husband was hospitalized after sustaining head injuries, searches for money with her family members around her destroyed home in Yaoundé, Cameroon, Oct. 9, 2023, after a dam collapsed, causing flooding, destroying homes and killing dozens of people. (OSV News photo/Amindeh Blaise Atabong, Reuters)
‘I feel your pain,’ archbishop tells survivors of Cameroon landslide
BY NGALA KILLIAN CHIMTON, OSV NEWS
YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon (OSV News) — Archbishop Jean Mbarga of Yaoundé offered “compassion and solidarity” to the families of those affected by the Oct. 8 landslide in the Mbankolo neighborhood of the capital city that claimed at least 27 lives with over 50 injured in the disaster.
“We are together in this,” Archbishop Mbarga said Oct. 10 during a visit to the area. “I feel your
pain. I feel in your hearts fear, so many unanswered questions.”
“I just want to tell you not to give up. Don’t give up on prayer for only God can lift you and give you the assurance that such tragedy will never happen again in this place,” he said.
“We also came with the desire to understand what happened (and) to see how the church can accompany those affected,” the prelate said about his visit. “We are all affected by what happened in Mbankolo; nobody should be indifferent.”
The rains unleashed floodwaters in the country’s capital Oct. 8. Several hours of rainfall caused the collapse of a century-old dam, releasing a wall of water that swept everything on its path downstream. Houses were flattened and trees uprooted.
“People were already sleeping in their houses and the floods uprooted the houses with people inside them,” Yaoundé resident Mbah Emmanuel told OSV News.
“The whole night, we did not sleep. We were digging up the corpses. It’s a deplorable situation. Those whose houses were on the track of the water could not survive because water uprooted their houses from the foundation,” he said.
David Tagne is currently receiving treatment in hospital, but his wife, daughter, mother-in-law and elder sister weren’t so lucky: They were among at least 15 people, most of them children, swept away by the floods as they celebrated a child’s birthday.
“I wished the floods carried me away as well,” Tagne lamented, wondering what life will look like with all his loved ones gone in a flash.
Authorities in Cameroon have been demolishing houses in high-risk zones susceptible to floods and landslides. Many of the buildings that collapsed Oct. 8 had been marked for demolition, according to The Associated Press.
During their Oct. 9 visit to the disaster site, Cameroon officials Paul Atanga Nji and Célestine Ketcha Courtès blamed the local population for constructing houses in a zone prone to floods.
“This happened because people occupied the water bed (the river floodplain). We all know that no building can hold the strength of water,” Courtès said on site.
She explained that the National Observatory on Climate Change had warned that there would be heavy rains in Yaoundé this year.
“I therefore called on local authorities to do everything possible to ensure that people get out of riverbeds to allow the water to flow naturally. Nobody heeded that call,” Courtès said.
The government officials said the remaining houses will be demolished and the inhabitants relocated, but offered no details.
Archbishop Mbarga noted that “death is irreversible, but we must continue to live and think about the future in solidarity with those who have left us.”
“We have begun a novena of prayer to accompany you (the survivors) in your grief,” the prelate announced. “We must channel to God what we really feel in our hearts.”
Ngala Killian Chimtom writes for OSV News from Younde, Cameroon.