Last Thursday’s heavy downpour which flooded slum communities and other settlements in Freetown is regarded as the worst in recent times.
The Director of Meteorological Department Denis Sombi Lansana explained, that it “is the heaviest daily rainfall we’ve experienced this year.”
He explained that Sierra Leone does experience heavy rainfall in August, but described the unusual heavy rainfall in September as the result of “cyclonic circulations,” which “are anti-clockwise winds that are in the upper atmosphere which move from east to west, (and) when they get over oceans they accumulate lots of strength and energy and come down as heavy downpour of rain. We have a heavy wind that blows in the upper atmosphere which is called easterly winds, they come in waves (and) those waves sometimes break into circulations either clockwise or anti-clockwise.”
He furthered that, “those circulations sometimes come with heavy thunder-storms and strong winds and those are the cyclonic circulations that affect the United States as cyclones; sometimes they come with heavy downpour.”
Mr Lansana maintained that “global warming could be one of the factors but it is not the main factor it is a supporting factor that is responsible for the abnormal type of weather we are experiencing especially these days.”
He also noted that “deforestation is part of the human activities that is responsible for global warming (and it) could also be seen as another factor.”
The director noted that “the importation of used cars that emits lots of carbon monoxide, affect the troposphere. The troposphere gets heated up and this in turn affects the weather as a whole,” he disclosed.
Speaking about the areas that flooded, Mr Lansana said, “there are areas which we called flood plains, whenever there is heavy shower those areas get flooded, and the Kroo bay area is one of those places.”
He explained that the mudslides experienced during the Thursday heavy rain “is as a result of its penetration on the earth, because of deforestation.”
“The rain weakens the top soil so it breaks down, so if there is a rock hanging on a cliff, the rain may wash off the soil and the stone may roll down the hill affecting people,” he said.
Mr Lansana furthered that “in August we did not experience heavy rainfall like we once usually have; the atmosphere was gaining momentum the system was getting heated-up; was gathering moisture enough so that when we have one rainstorm that could compensate for the rain deficit.”
He noted that the department is responsible for weather national forecast as well but they are “mostly concentrating on aviation weather forecasting- reason being that the department lacks the capacity.”
“We have only two forecaster and both of them are at the Freetown International Airport at Lungi for aviation forecasting. Aviation weather forecast is round the clock, even when we are not expecting flight we need to have a forecaster on site that will be communicating with the control tower in case there is a need to divert flight here if a neighboring country is experiencing bad weather,” he explained.
Speaking to the director of disaster management Office of National Security (ONS), Mary Mye-Kamara whether they have rendered any assistance to victims of the flood-”We have not yet render any assistant to victims of the Thursday flood; the reasons is that we are currently working on it together with other institutions,” she said.
The ONS director explained that the practice normally is for us to go to the site and conduct an assessment because it is a normal practice around the world. “Obviously you cannot know what the needs of the people are without actually conducting an assessment,” she said.
“This assessment is ongoing and we hope to conclude that in the next couple of days. As soon as we have everything together we can plan on actually giving out whatever support we can come up with,” the ONS director maintained.
“As soon as we have everything together we can plan on actually giving out whatever support we can come up with,” she said.
Highlighting the role of the ONS, she said, “we are coordinators for national emergencies. So basically the practice is to invite all stakeholders be it government institutions or international agencies together in a meeting where we will discuss all the problems pertaining to the disaster,” she disclosed.
Madam Mye-Kamara explained that they are inviting all stakeholders together to do the assessment “this is because they are experts coming from various facets and can provide varying needs as needed. We are currently assessing the magnitude of the damage caused by the flood,” she stressed.
The ONS director noted that they are equipped to get all stakeholders together all “we had to do is maybe distribute letters and make phone calls and the people will be here to meet immediately we could do that, however, the government of Sierra Leone has been working to see how it can actually capacitate all government institutions that actually deal with disaster management to ensure that these institutions are actually capacitated to be able to operate effectively when disaster occurs,” she said.
As national coordinators, she said “we don’t have all the resources available to actually go to any disaster site and deliver it to the victims that is not our responsibility.
“Our responsibility basically is to see how we can bring together all stakeholders whether they are from government institutions or whether they are from international agencies and see how we can harness those resources they have to be able to provide for these people because we need to have somebody to be there that can actually bring everybody together and perhaps be in position to get something from these people to be able to avail them to the victims- so this our role,.” she said
The ONS director revealed, “to be very honest, as of now the government institutions are really not capacitated to handle this. As has been happening in the past most times we depend on international agencies to assist us in this process.”
She disclosed that there is some kind of fatigue on the part of international agencies, “because they want to be the ones that should be giving us the extra support, they want to see the government take the lead and they give the extra boost that we need.”
This is, she said, “is yet to become fully operational because the resources are not just there.” Many of the government institutions, she explained, “are trying to see what could be done expeditiously, but the reality is that the resources are not just there at the moment – so we have to encourage those agencies with resources to see what can be done,” she stressed.
The ONS is not exempted, the director noted, “we have limited resources that we could make use of which I believe that together with all the other agencies support perhaps could make up something that would be appreciable to these people. This is the position,” she said.
Speaking about the damage cause by the Thursday flooding, the director said, “there has being high level of damage as a result of the flood, but fortunately the number of confirmed deaths I think has been a little exaggerated by the media but that is understandable because there has been so many unconfirmed reports.”
On the whole, she said, “we only have two confirmed deaths- one in Kroo bay and the other in Congo Town. There had been several unconfirmed reports including an electrocution case.”
With regards to property destroyed, Mye-Kamara said, “taking into consideration the economic situation of the people living in those flooded areas it’s very serious – there were personal effects and household utensils seen all over the place; makeshift abode were also destroyed,” she disclosed.
The director cited a case where there were some people residing under a cliff and a very big bolder hanging over head them was eroded and crushed the houses that were beneath.
“The whole city was actually hit by this flood and this is serious,” she said.
“This is not going to stop at all, as much as this may look like a natural disaster this was really triggered by man’s activity in Freetown. We have sensitized people living in these areas about the dangers of residing in these areas, especially when you consider the fact that at the moment government is grappling with so many issues and it has very limited resources. I think residents must take the onus and do the right thing to protect themselves and their family,” Mye-Kamara explained.
“Living in these disaster prone areas because you have nowhere to stay is not an excuse, because at the end of the day it will either cost you your life or your property and whatever compensation government is going to give it would not bring back the life lost,” she explained.
Saidu Alieu Turay Chairman of the Kroo bay health committee explained that this is the worst flooding he had experienced in the community.
Pointing to the mud marks on the wall of his abode, he explained that the water level increased 12 inches than the previous one.
As a six-footer, he explained that the water was at his chest and he had to quickly evacuate his wife and children to the hill top close by.
He lamented that most of his property were destroyed by the flood, noting that most of the residents in the community are suffering from cold and pain as this was caused as they tried to rescue the properties they can lay hands on.
He appealed to government to relocate them to areas where they would not experience such disasters in the future. By Ophaniel Gooding