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My husband, four children’s whereabouts unknown –Anambra flood victim

Victoria Okafor

Anambra State is one of the states most devastated by floods. Members of several affected communities have been displaced and are now sheltered in Internally Displaced Peoples camps provided by the state government. IKENNA OBIANERI, who visited one of the camps, spoke to two of the victims

Briefly introduce yourself.

My name is Victoria Okafor. I am from Mmiata-Anam, Anambra West Local Government Area. I am a farmer. I am 49 years old. I am married and I have six children.

When did you arrive at the IDP camp?

I came here on September 15 after flood took over our community and our houses were overrun by water. All the buildings in the community, except two-storey buildings,were swallowed up. At first, when the flood swallowed up our houses, we ran to  one-storey houses and they accommodated us upstairs; we were staying on the balconies, but the flood kept surging and at a point it took over one-storey buildings in the area, it was at this point that we had to start relocating.

Did you come to the camp with your family?

I found myself alone in this camp and as I speak right now, I don’t know where my husband and some of my children are camping. When the flood started, two of my children went to stay with my sister in a different community. One night after the flood was almost taking over the one-storey building we ran to for shelter,  people called for boats and when the boats came, about four of them, everybody jumped into various boats. The boat I joined brought me to this camp; some other boats went to different camps. So, I am hoping and believing that my husband and children went to some other camps. It is when the flood recedes and everybody goes back home that we will see one another again.

Have you communicated with any of them through telephone?

No, I misplaced my handset as we were struggling to enter the boat that night. It was such a struggle because the waters kept surging and everybody was struggling to get  into the boat. I have never seen a situation like that. I was not thinking of a handset at that point.

Tell us about your boat experience that night.

It was a terrible experience. Although, as someone who lives in a riverine area, I was already used to boat rides,  the experience of that particular night was a different ball game. First, I had never boarded a boat at night and again, we were in a panic situation as everybody was just running for safety. I saw about three people fall into water from the boat I was in. It was a very frightening moment and journey; my heart was in my mouth all through until we arrived at the upper ground. I had never seen a thing like that all my life. The one (flood) that we experienced in 2012 was not like this; it was not as fearful as this one.

Were those that fell into water rescued?

I don’t think so. Who would have rescued them when everybody was running for his or her safety.

Were there no life jackets?

No one remembered to request for life jackets; everybody was trapped and looking for a way out and when the boats came, no one talked about life jackets. You cannot see the way the water was surging in a furious manner and be asking for a life jacket. The thoughts on everybody’s mind was to leave that arena first and foremost. It was unfortunate those people fell into water. We also battled cold and when we got to the upper ground, we battled mosquitoes. It is better imagined than experienced.

Which of the boats did your husband and children enter?

My husband and children got into the first boat, but I could not make it into the boat because there was no more space. It was the second boat that I eventually joined, and the boats went to different camps, depending on the one the boat rider knows.

Can you recall how the flood started in your community?

It started like a normal flood but as the rain persisted, it became worse and before we knew what was happening, the water was rising. Although we knew there would be flood, we never expected  it would be of this magnitude. As the water kept rising, we constructed a wooden hanger, where we kept some of our belongings and we were also sleeping on the hanger; but one morning, as we woke up at about 4am, we saw that the water had reached the top of the hanger and had also got to our neck level, yet it was still surging; no end in sight. It was at that point that we had to run to a storey building nearby and two days after, when the storey building was almost  swallowed up, people started calling for boats to take them away. At first, many of us constructed hangers just like we did in our houses before. There was a family that got trapped while they were still sleeping; they did not know that the water had reached the top of the hanger, and when they opened their eyes, trying to escape, the water covered them up, and right now, no one has heard from that family.

Can you estimate the level of  damage done in your community?

The damage is huge; what we experienced in 2012 cannot be compared to this one. A lot of houses have collapsed, it is after the flood  recedes that we will really be able to estimate the level of damage done. But right now, a lot of houses have been washed off and you know most of these structures are mud houses. Our farmlands, our farming tools, even the people we have lost, the damage is huge. It is only after the flood has gone that we will really be able to count the losses.

The chairman of the state’s committee on flood said people refused to be evacuated  from their homes despite the surging flood. How true is that?

Yes, some people refused to leave, especially those who ran to two-storey buildings, the water did not get to that level. The reason they gave was that they were watching over their property. They said if they left, people might vandalise their properties and  their farmlands.

How did you manage to feed before you were evacuated from your home and brought to the camp?

When the water covered everywhere and people could not go out, some people, like the flood committee group and some other people, were bringing cooked food to us from the upper ground through boats and it was once a day.

How has life been since you came to the IDP camp?

The IDP camp is not new to me. In 2012, we experienced the same thing. The difference is that in 2012, I was with my family members in one camp, unlike this time. The thing is that this place cannot be compared to one’s house; there is no place like home. It has not been easy here; we battle mosquitoes, we sleep in the open and on bare floor. When it rains, all of us will hurdle together inside and at night, we will not be able to sleep as there won’t be space to sleep. Both men and women sleep in one place and bathe in the open. These clothes I have on are the only clothes I came with. In terms of feeding, they (government) are trying. They cook six bags of rice everyday, and teachers come on Wednesdays and Thursdays to teach the children some subjects. I want to commend and thank the donors, the agencies, but a lot still needs to be done; we don’t know what fate awaits us at our homes that we fled from. All our means of livelihood have been destroyed by the flood.

In what areas do you think you will need assistance?

We are farmers, we will need farming implements. All our implements, our harvested and non-harvested crops have been destroyed by the flood. We will also need seedlings. Few days before we were moved to the camp, I attempted to rescue my implements and seedlings from the farm storehouse, but I had to turn back by the time the water got to my neck level as I was wading through the waters to the place we kept our farming implements. We will also need cash to rebuild our lives because there won’t be anything left for us.

When you go back, what will be your first action?

First is to reunite with my family members and if our house is still standing, I will give glory to God. We also expect the government and other relevant agencies to come to our aid this time around. We are hoping and praying that the situation will not be like our experience in 2012 when they (government) made a lot of promises, but not one was fulfilled at the end of the day.

This flood felt like biblical days of Noah – Farmer

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Ndubuisi Eze. I am a native of Umudora-Anam in the Anambra West Local Government Area of Anambra State. I am 61 years old. I am married with two wives and 12 children. I am a farmer. What brought us here is flood, a flood that can best be likened to  the biblical Noah’s flood. I have never seen such a flood all my life, it is better imagined than experienced.

Are you in this camp with your wives and children?

I found myself here alone. A lot of us here are not with our complete families. Different boats came at the same time and everybody scrambled to enter and the one I entered brought me here, others went to different camps. I hope to see my family members after the flood has receded.

Weren’t you and your family members together when the boats came?

The evacuation boats came suddenly and at night when everywhere was dark, with the flood covering everywhere. It was only voices that we were hearing as people were jumping into the boats one after the other.

But have you been able to speak with any of your wives or children since you arrived here?

Yes, I have been calling my wives and they have told me the camp they are in together with some of my children. Although I have not been able to reach out to all of them, I believe and pray they are also safe wherever they are.

Can you recall how the flood started or what the experience was like for you?

It started like a normal flood but the rains persisted and as days rolled by, the water level kept increasing and at a point, it started surging in a fiery manner. At first, we built some wooden hangers and placed all our properties on top and we were sleeping on them. But one night we  suddenly saw that the water was almost reaching the level of the hanger and when I entered into it, it got to my neck level. It was at that point that we had to first relocate to a storey building in the area. And before the end of that day, the water had totally covered up our house and other houses, we could not see the rooftops anymore; the only roofs we could see were those of storey buildings; all  bungalows were totally submerged.

But when the floods were coming, there were warnings that you people in the riverine areas should relocate. Why did you  wait till water covered your roof?

We thought it was something we could manage and that was why we built those wooden hangers and because we did not want to have a repeat of the nasty experience we had in 2012. In 2012, when the flood came, we were quickly evacuated and when we came back, all our properties, farmlands, harvested and non-harvested crops, were vandalised and you know that the flood of 2012 was not as much as the one we saw this year. Even as I talk to you now, there are still a lot of people who have refused to leave, especially those who live in storey buildings. They are staying back just because they do not want their properties vandalised.

What sad moments can you recall before your evacuation?

There were many sad moments. It was a terrible experience. A lot of people got bitten by snakes, many died in the flood. A day before we were evacuated, one of our neighbours, a family of six, woke up one night and saw that the water level had almost reached their hanger and was heading to the roof. The wife quickly called for a boat, the husband told her to wait till the morning so they could find their way out, but she refused and when the boat came, she got into the boat together with her four children, but few metres away into their journey, the boat hit a big tree and capsized and all of them were turned into the water. Till we left, their bodies were not recovered. There was another family, three of them died in their room as the waters reached where they were sleeping at the top of their wooden hangers and swept them down; they did not survive. I lost someone in the boat accident that happened in Umunnakwo near Nzam in which many people died. Most of these calamities happened at night when the waters became very torrential and frightening. The force with which it surges at night is not the same way it does in the daytime. It is after everything has settled down that a headcount will be done to ascertain the level of deaths. It is a terrible experience.

What are the challenges you face here at the IDP camp?

The relief materials brought don’t get to us. We use our money to buy soaps and toothpastes and some of our grocery needs, whereas all these items were brought by the donors. The cash the donors bring always end up in a few people’s pockets and it is not a good idea; these are relief materials meant for flood victims. We need the cash which will help us rebuild our lives to enable us to start life afresh when we go back home by the time the flood recedes because as it is now, we don’t have anything to fall back on. In 2012, the same thing happened, all the items and cash brought for victims didn’t get to us; the promises that were made by the state government were never fulfilled. We started life from zero level when we got back home after the flood of 2012 and it is painful that all we have gathered since then have been destroyed again in the 2022 flood. All of us here are not with our complete families. Some of our children and wives are in different camps, depending on the area you found yourself. We found ourselves here, some of our family members found themselves elsewhere; it is after the flood that we will reunite. We appeal to governments at all levels, groups and individuals donating relief materials to give the items directly to the refugees. By this, the victims, who are the target beneficiaries, will feel the impact, but with the current arrangement, the donations are not getting to the real victims.

Can you compare the level of damage this year to the 2012 experience?

This year’s flood is very devastating. Apart from destruction of properties and materials, many lives have been lost. Many corpses are under the water, some of them should be floating by now. It is better imagined than experienced.

What role will you want the relevant agencies to play in this situation?

We will want them take the headcount of the community by the time the flood goes away and everybody returns home. This will help to know the missing persons who might probably have died in the flood. They should also take concrete steps to prevent possible epidemic. Above all, we need help, both monetary and otherwise, to  rebuild our lives.

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