Residents Moved to Higher Ground

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By Frederick Philander MARIENTAL Panic-stricken residents and business people of the Southern town of Mariental were on Saturday helter-skelter forced to evacuate their houses and businesses due to threatening floodwaters from an over full Hardap Dam near the town. The floods have been described as the worst since the devastation of 1972 and 2000 when people drowned and a lot of damage was caused to property. The business district on the western side of the railway line early on Saturday morning bore the brunt of the flood waters streaming into the geographically low-lying town after the sluices of the dam were opened. Most of the more than 70 businesses and 122 households were ordered by the Emergency Service Unit of the town council to evacuate the low-lying area for their own safety. Most shops were instantly shut down because of the rising water flowing at a rate of 2 000 cubic metres per second from the sluices of the dam, which is presently 108 percent full and situated some five kilometres from the town. “We are facing a very grave situation in the town. That’s why I have alerted the deputy Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary and the Government’s Emergency Unit. I have instructed my personnel to be on standby with all available government vehicles for any eventuality because we are expecting the worst to happen to the town and its inhabitants,” a very concerned and worried Hardap governor, Katrina Hanse said during a short interlude on the Hardap Dam wall around 11h00 on Saturday morning. New Era witnessed people hurriedly carrying out furniture and other belongings from their homes on the western side of the town. So did businesses such as a local undertaker that removed all caskets from the premises with the help of local unemployed people. Businesses were allowed to temporarily store their goods and property at Empelheim and the Danie Joubert schools on the opposite side of the railway line. Governor Hanse was there to talk to officials of Nam-water about the life-threatening situation. “I just arrived from Windhoek and was told that the situation is grave. I imme-diately alerted the govern-ment’s Emergency Disaster Unit that instantly dispatched officials from Windhoek to Mariental. We have asked the town’s residents to remain calm but on the alert,” said Hanse, who was yesterday morning locked in serious consultations with government officials over the developing situation. Earlier on Saturday morning, reports of water damage all over the town reached the desk of the emergency unit of the local authority. “Sewerage pipes burst and graves in the local cemetery were damaged and the flood waters are still rising,” said Hendrik Meyer, the unit’s head. “The next 24 hours will be crucial for the town and its people,” he warned. According to a Namwater technical supervisor, the company was forced to open the dam’s sluices due to water pressure flowing into the dam from the 13-square-km catchment area to the north of the town. “We already started opening the sluices in early February to keep the dam’s capacity at around 80 percent and to ensure the safety of Mariental, but the constant heavy rainfall made it virtually impossible to relieve the water pressure on the dam’s wall, which can burst if it is not done,” said Namwater representative in charge of the sluices, Hennie van Heer-den. According to Van Heer-den, the released water burst the banks of the Fish River through which the flooding was caused to the town. Namwater’s Corporate Communications manager, Tomm-Riva Numbala on February 24 informed the company’s personnel to give notice to Mariental’s inhabitants about the imminent opening of the dam’s sluices in a formal communication. “Namwater has opened the sluices of the Hardap Dam as from 10h00 today, 24 February 2006 (Friday) with the intention to release water at the rate of 500 cubic metres per second. There is still a strong inflow and hence the sluices will remain open during the day and throughout the night,” said Numbala in his official notice. Yesterday Mariental was cut off from the outside world by road and the water level was still rising and moving into the direction of the townships of Empelheim and Aimablaagte. Hendrik Meyer told New Era that at 12h00 yesterday, the water level of the Hardap Dam was 97,6 percent full, representing a drop of 12 percent on the previous day’s capacity. “The outlet of water has now been slowed down from 3 500 cubic metres per second to 3 000 cubic metre per second to bring it to 80 percent, after which the sluices will be shut down. The water inflow into the dam is presently approximately 1 000 cubic metres per second and is increasing because more rain fell in the catch-ments area,” Meyer said. Reports from the town indicate that caspirs and boats are being used to rescue people who have been cut off and isolated by the floodwaters.