BUJUMBURA, Burundi: At least 51 people perished in flooding and landslides in a night of torrential rain in the Burundi capital that swept away hundreds of homes and cut off roads and power, officials said Monday.
Police in Bujumbura said the toll was the highest in living memory from a disaster caused by freak weather, with more than 100 people also injured.
“The rain that fell in torrents overnight on the capital caused a disaster,” Security Minister Gabriel Nizigama told reporters.
“We have already found the bodies of 51 people killed when their houses collapsed or were swept away.”
Police said several hundred homes were destroyed after torrential rains began battering the city late Sunday.
Houses in the poorer parts of town are often built from mud bricks, which offer no resistance to torrents of water and mud.
“It’s the first time in the history of Bujumbura that we have seen damage on this scale,” Bujumbura mayor Saidi Juma said, calling for “solidarity on a national and international scale” to help the city cope.
In the district of Kinama in the hardest hit north of the city, a stream broke its banks, with waters rising to shoulder level in some places.
By midday the flooding had subsided, leaving scenes of devastation.
Zawadi, a mother-of-five, stood in the ruins of her Kinama home, feeding her five-month-old baby surrounded by jerry cans and muddy clothing.
“I heard the children shouting during the night,” she said, recounting how she had gone into their room to find them standing up on their bed, which was already under water.
The whole family was able to run outside before the walls caved in, but one neighboring family was less fortunate, with the parents and their three children crushed to death.
On the western outskirts of Bujumbura, residents told similar stories.
“Around midnight we heard something cracking and we all ran outside for fear the house would fall on us,” said Gaudence Nyandwi, whose father Venant was being transferred from an improvised stretcher to a car, his face contorted in pain.
“My father went back inside to see if he could save anything and the house fell on him. We think he might have a broken leg,” Nyandwi told AFP.
Nizigama said burials of the victims would begin on Monday because there was not enough space for their bodies in the capital’s mortuaries.
He was speaking at a police station in the worst affected northern part of Bujumbura, where an AFP journalist saw 27 bodies covered in white sheeting.
Nizigama, touring the disaster zone with other ministers, promised food aid to those who lost their homes and said the government would bear the cost of burying relatives and would provide new housing.
Torrential rain fell solidly for 10 hours overnight, causing power cuts in whole areas of the city which lies on the northeastern shore of Lake Tanganyika.
The road leading out of the capital to neighboring Rwanda was blocked because of a landslide while a bridge was washed away on the road to the Democratic Republic of Congo.