By Amindeh Blaise Atabong
YAOUNDE (Reuters) -A wave of water released by a burst dam killed at least 28 people in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde following heavy rains, with the death toll expected to rise, authorities said on Monday.
A colonial-era dam gave way at around 4 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Sunday, unleashing water from a small lake down the steep hillside of the Mbankolo neighbourhood, said local leader Assola Joseph.
The deluge swept away a large chunk of hillside, destroying homes and burying the area in debris and mud. Residents and rescue workers on Monday picked through the mess of rubble, broken timber, uprooted banana trees and corrugated metal.
“The search is on but we can say the situation is under control,” communications minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi said at the site.
Twenty-eight people died and more than 20 had been injured, he said.
Among the dead were children attending a birthday party, said resident Fanwi Believer.
A Reuters journalist at the scene saw five bodies being carried away and some 30 destroyed houses. Among the personal belongings buried in mud were a walking stick, a wedding photo, school textbooks and toys.
Yemele Guy recalled losing hold of one child as he rushed to save his family and others from the surging water.
“While I was rescuing a fifth child, water almost carried me away,” he said, sitting in the ruins of his compound. “It snatched the child from my hands.” The child was later found dead, he said.
Another resident, Bona Serge, said six of his neighbours were killed after the dam burst. He said he’d rushed home on Sunday when his children called to say the house was crumbling.
“I don’t know how we are going to recover our lives,” he said in front of his partially destroyed home.
Visiting the site, Territorial Administration Minister Paul Atanga Nji said the buildings in the area had been constructed in a high-risk zone and warned the death toll would likely rise.
Poverty and poor infrastructure make communities such as Mbankolo more vulnerable to extreme weather such as heavy rain, which is becoming more frequent and intense in Africa due to climate change, according to United Nations climate experts.
(Reporting by Amindeh Blaise Atabong; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing Alessandra Prentice and Grant McCool)