The Day the Floods Came …

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Many had to flee from their homes when the floods from Angola swelled the oshanas.
But people in the reception areas say they are coping, New Era reports.

By Catherine Sasman

OSHANA REGION

Celestine Handishike sits alone on her bed in the corner of a big white tent. A white mosquito net is fastened with thread above her bed.

During the day, the net is buttoned up into a neat knot and pushed to one side of the bed. She does not speak to the other elderly women and one old and weak looking man she temporarily shares the tent as a home.

When asked, she says she is 90 years old, although she looks much younger, despite the tiredness in her hollow eyes.

“I feel fine, I feel good,” she says softly through an Oshiwambo interpreter.

“When I first came here I was really scared and shocked.”

Handishike was sheltered at what has now become known as the Greenwell Matongo reception area behind the Spar shopping mall in Ongwediva. The camp has become home for many who had to flee from their homes when raging floodwaters spilled over the Angolan border after heavy rains there.

“I just thank the Lord that we have survived,” she says.

Handishike came to the camp with her six grandchildren that she takes care of on her own. All of her 10 children are dead.

When the floods came, she was at home with her grandchildren.

“I had to be carried out of my house,” she says. She has had a particularly harrowing experience.

“Snakes came with the water,” she tells.

Caught inside their hut in a rural village, four snakes had entered with the deluge, encircling the family. Neighbours responded to their screaming by calling the police who came just in time to scare off the snakes. One of the snakes was killed in the process.

“I have never seen anything like this before,” says 84-year-old Emelia Nhgixulu of this year’s floods. She sits with her legs outstretched in front of her on a thin mattress on the ground, eating dry bread someone has brought with warm tea in an enamel cup.

“There is still so much water around. I don’t think we will eat mealies this year. It is all under water.”

Nhgixulu and 16 members of her family who live in Okandjengedi had to be relocated. They were forced to leave behind everything they own as they were carried out of their house. Their animals were moved to patches of dry land amid the often-vast stretches of water.

“Many people will starve this year,” says Conceisao Dala, the head of the volunteers in the camp recruited and trained by the Namibian Red Cross Society that has established a firm presence at the four relief camps which have sprouted up after the two waves of floods that have displaced thousands of people.

Naomi Haiduwa (34) and her mother, Helena Oidiva (59) are some of the people who had to leave everything behind. Their homestead is at King Kauluma, about two kilometres from Ongwediva. They were picked up by boat because the water was so high.

“Before the floods our animals were there. We planted mahangu, beans, and pumpkins. But I think we wasted our energy to plough. Our fields are gone,” says Haiduwa.

Volunteer Dala herself had to flee from her house in Oskahati a month ago when she woke up one morning and found that the water had seeped through the cement floor of her house. She first went to live with relatives in Ongwediva, but when they got flooded in the second wave on March 13, they all had to move out.

“When the floods came I thought it was not so bad. We put sand bags around the house.” But the flooding was unrelenting and the residents entirely unprepared for the masses of water.

“The water came running like it was nobody’s business,” Dala now laughs. “My auntie’s house has a high stoep but the water still seeped in under the cement floors.”

Just days before the second wave, there was a hailstorm north of Oskakati, and says Dala, the Ruacana Falls can be seen spurting sprays of water eight or nine kilometres away.

“When people see that they think Jesus is coming.”

But although the tented residents are unsure of what they will go back to after the floods recede, they all say that they feel safe in the relief camps.

“It feels like home,” says Dala, who shares a tent with four other families.

“Most people here at the camp normally do not have electricity at there homes. Here they enjoy that. Children get biscuits and sweets. Adults watch their favourite soapies on television every night. They all run to the TV tent when Gardener’s Daughter – a popular soap opera on NBC TV – comes on every night.”

The general health of the flood victims has also improved, says Andreas Uutoni, Corporate Communications Officer at the Ongwediva Town Council and member of the Oshana Emergency Management Task Force.

Although no cases of malaria in the four camps have so far been reported, countless flood victims were ill with diarrhoea.

Humanitarian assistance came in thick and fast since the first two reception areas were set up after January 31. The first to respond, said Uutoni, were the private businesses, church organisations and individuals that gave out their tents, food and blankets, water purification tablets and powders, secondhand clothes.

The Red Cross came on board on the second day after the first flooding, bringing with it mosquito nets, jerry cans, medication. Parastatals, Nored, the Namibia Housing Enterprise and many others followed suit. Government and Namibia Defence Force also bought new tents for the different camps. The defence force has also two helicopters on standby to pick up people in areas that cannot be reached otherwise. Many people, estimated Uutoni, are stuck in the middle of water masses that spread over large areas. Food and medicine are taken to cattle herders stuck in the middle. The centres have the use of a mobile clinic, but Uutoni said it is hoped for each centre to have a fixed clinic.

By yesterday, the about 669 flood victims (made up of 157 families) at the Ongwediva Trade Centre were moved to Greenwell Matongo, where it is hoped most victims can be accommodated.

By last week Wednesday, there were 322 households (1??????’?????’?????????????

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