Cameroon landslide survivors scramble to salvage their livesTue, 10 Oct 2023 17:17:24 GMT

A bar is playing religious music at the entrance to the Nkol Etam area of the Cameroon capital, where torrential rains brought down a hillside killing 28 people.A dozen people are drinking, distraught and grieving as they recall the landslide that hit on Sunday evening.A three-day downpour burst a dam wall holding a man-made lake on higher ground.A sea of mud swept away some 30 homes spread across the hill.Landslides plague Yaounde in the rainy season, with a population of three million sprawled over surrounding hills and too many living in shacks built on land not fit for construction.”We are the first victims,” sighs a young woman, refusing to reveal her name.”A birthday party was underway at home when the water arrived. The house was totally destroyed.”Many local people in this northwest corner of the capital ask not to be identified as many of the shacks, while long tolerated, were not legally constructed.Restaurant owner Frederic Kuete, aged 25, is fighting to hold back the tears.”I’ve lost everything. The clothes I’m wearing I just bought them,” he says.”I’ve lived in the area for 10 years. When the tragedy happened, I was outside the house, the rain stopped me from getting home earlier.”From Sunday night, local residents and rescue workers pulled 27 bodies from the thick layer of mud and stone that flowed down to the foot of the hill.”We pulled out another body today,” Colonel David Petatoa Poufong, commander of the second fire brigade corps, told AFP at the site of the disaster on Tuesday afternoon.- Baby pulled out alive -On Monday a seven-month old baby had been found alive among the wreckage and several more people were saved on Tuesday, the colonel said.He admitted to not knowing if more people might still be under the rubble or missing.Several of his men were still at work on the ground but diggers had already started to raze what was left standing.Paul Atanga Nji, minister of territorial administration, had on Monday railed against the building of houses “in a dangerous area”.”We will work to make people aware so that all these non-buildable areas are freed up… every year there are deaths,” he said.After decades in which the shacks were allowed to sprout by the authorities, he ordered all remaining construction on Nkol Etam’s hillside to be knocked down.That set survivors scrambling to salvage whatever they could — armchairs, mattresses, beds.Men, women and children are  coming and going with bags and cases on their heads, struggling through the mud.Peter Nkoh Fossi, says he has lived in the area for  23 years, and he is angry.His house was one of those knocked down on Tuesday.”This was my living room,” he explains, pointing to part of a wall where his wife and children squat.”I’m 72 with six children and I don’t have a penny. Where are we to go? The government could have given us a week or two to get organised,” he says.Kuete, the restaurant owner, says he was phoned on Sunday night and told his house was collapsing.”I ran and we saved the mother of my girlfriend and her daughter. My little brother was hurt and is in hospital but we did not find his girlfriend,” he says.Thirty-five-year-old golf coach Augustin Ondobo recalls hearing the landslide and finding “several bodies already floating on the water”.An old lady and her children are praying outside their house which bears a painted red cross, meaning it is marked for demolition, still hoping it will be spared the bulldozers.