September 9, 2015 By Mohamed Massaquoi from Bo District
A Concord Times investigative team was in the southern region to investigate what may have caused the flooding disaster in the town of Gerihun and other villages in the Bo District, south of the country over the weekend. The disaster, which covered part of the Gerihun township and its environs with flood water, also left the main highway between Bo and Kenema completely cut-off to vehicular and human traffic after the Hungbayei River burst its banks.
It all started with torrential rain on 4th September when the Hungbayei River was overwhelmed by water as a result of more than three days of heavy deluge of rain. Investigation revealed that villages along the riverbank were seriously affected with several mud houses swept away by the heavy flooding. Property worth millions of Leones were said to have been destroyed, thus many residents left homeless.
Yayia Conteh, a resident of Gbogaima village on the outskirts of Gerihun, said he was at home on that fateful Saturday morning when it started raining heavily. Trees, he said, were felled by the heavy winds accompanying the heavy downpour.
“The water level at the Hungbayei River started rising, and some hours later, the river burst its banks and the flood water started destroying houses,” explained Mr. Conteh. “Some houses very close to my compound were swept away by flood water. I decided to evacuate my family to a safer place. This is the worst disaster to have befallen our village in its entire history. One of the houses fell on a pregnant woman; she died on the spot.”
Conteh added that over 20 houses were destroyed at Gbogaima village.
Joseph Demby, a resident of Ngahun village, told Concord Times that a number of houses were destroyed in his community by heavy flooding.
“We were caught in between the two rivers – Hungbayei and Sewa,” said Mr. Demby. “Some people are still hibernating in the bush because the entire village has been swept away. We are in need of humanitarian support. There is no food, no water; everything we had has been destroyed by the rain.”
In Gerihun, houses were also destroyed but the most notable disaster was the complete cut-off to vehicular traffic of the main highway linking Bo and Kenema – the southern and eastern headquarters, respectively.
Commuters from Kenema and other parts of the eastern province – including ministers, parliamentarians, councilors and public servants – were left stranded for almost three days as they tried to return to their respective areas of work, including Freetown, after spending the weekend with their families. And the experience was the same for commuters travelling from Freetown, Bo and other places to Kenema.
“We have been here for the past two nights,” Councilor Anthony Fonnie of the Kenema City Council lamented to Concord Times in Gerihun.
But for the unemployed youths in Gerihun, it was an opportunity for them to make money as they charged Le5,000 per head to carry people on their shoulders to the other end of the road. Vehicles had to pay Le15,000 to be physically ferried across the water as the engines could not come on.
Moreover, some staff of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society visited the flooded communities on the second day of the disaster and held talks with affected community members.
Some residents of Golu township have accused the Allotropes diamond mining company operating in the area for the flooding as according to them, this is the first time ever the township was experiencing flooding of such magnitude. They blamed this to the company’s mining activities.
Allotropes Diamond Company Limited is operating on the banks of the Sewa River linking the Hungbayei River.
The company’s Supervisor, Charles Amara, refused to comment on the allegation when contacted by the Concord Times investigating team at Golu. He even denied the team and other journalists access to the company’s mine site.
Allotropes Public Relations Officers, Sulaiman Koroma, also refused to comment on the allegation.
Meanwhile, Town Chief of Golu, Steven Karidu Kafula, said he was very much disturbed by the incidence, thus calling for an urgent investigation by state authorities on the cause of the flooding.
He said Allotropes has been mining in his community for the past two years and could not link the flooding disaster to the activities of the company.
“This is the will of God, it is natural…” he said.