• Worst disaster since 2012 River Benue surge sacks 121, 000 persons, sweeps away 4, 000 houses
•Victims paid dearly for ignoring the weather man’s warning – Govt.
BY PETER DURU, Makurdi
For three consecutive days (72 hours) last week the heavens opened up intermittently on Makurdi, Benue State capital, and what was expected to be showers of blessing for inhabitants of the sprawling city turned out to be a bitter experience.
The ensuing flood took everyone by storm.
121,000 persons were sacked from their homes while close to 4,000 houses were reportedly submerged in water.
Being the worst since the 2012 River Benue surge, the flood, like a thief in the night, swept away hundreds of millions of Naira worth of property and valuables of helpless residents.
Though no deaths were reported, the flood left in its wake pains as many of the affected persons lost virtually all it took years to acquire.
The storm also washed away roads and drainages in several communities and settlements thus cutting off many inhabitants from the main town.
Bridges and culverts were not spared in the worst hit areas..
The areas include Idye, Achusa, Logo, Wadata, Kucha Utebe, Genabe, Behind Civil Service Commission, Nyiman Layout, Uniagric Community, Behind Bem Hotel, Katungu, Aboughoul Wadata, Moon Community, Behind GTB and Demekpe.
Others are Wadata Old Prison, Breweries, Gyado Villa, New Kanshio Layout, Wurukum Market, Mobile Barracks, Welfare and BIPC Quarters.
The rich and the poor, the high and mighty suffered the same fate and were suddenly brought together on the same pedestal by fate and obviously left to ponder over a helpless situation.
The effect is the sight of families moving household items and valuables in the streets of Makurdi and searching for a safe haven and emergency shelter.
Speaking on his experience, a resident of Nyiman Layout and father of four, John Terngu, who claimed to have lost property to the flood, said that apart from being a natural disaster, the tragedy was made worse by blocked drainages and buildings erected on water channels.
“Our people just built houses in areas that should be channels for excess water to flow to River Benue. So we are paying the price for their wrong and the negligence of the authorities who are supposed to ensure that buildings are properly located, Terngu said.
A widow at the BIPC Quarters, Mrs. Rosemary Ocheme, said she ran after it became impossible to divert the flow of flood water that submerged her house.
“It has been a sad experience for most of us living on this axis, including those in connecting settlements like Mobile Barracks, Achusa Nyima up to Wurukum area, it’s been sad tales”, she told Sunday Vanguard.
“They say we are all living on floodplain or FADAMA but the problem was made worse by the people who, on their own volition, chose to flout government directives. Given the situation at hand, government must take urgent steps to solve this problem before the entire Makurdi goes under water.”
Speaking on the issue, the state Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment, Dr. Terlumun Utsev, said, “We were actually aware that there would be flooding but it was the magnitude that we did not know.
“The Nigerian Meteorological Agency had sent early warning and, with the rise in the river level, coupled with the poor drainage maintenance culture, we were left to battle this situation.
“Though we had before now sent out warning, people took it for granted and failed to abide by the instructions government issued.”
Utsev said the state government had taken steps to open up drainages and construct new ones in and around the state capital to mitigate the effect of the flood.
“Besides, for those who lost property and valuables to the flood, our governor has directed the State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, to liaise with relevant agencies to support them.
“On our part as a ministry, we have written to the Federal Government to come to our aid because Benue was not included in the initial money that was released to states for ecological and flood related problems.
“But it is now obvious that the situation at hand at the moment is far beyond what the state government can undertake.”
Meanwhile, after an on-the-spot assessment of the devastation in and around Makurdi, Governor Samuel Ortom, who expressed shock at what he saw, called for an urgent intervention by the Federal Government to tackle the issue.
The governor said the state government would embark on mass demolition of buildings and structures erected on waterways and floodplains in and around the town to check a reoccurrence.
He said as a temporary measure, government would deploy earth moving equipment to create drainage channels in the devastated areas in order to open up flow parts for the flood.
He said, “We do not have a choice but to embark on demolition of structures and buildings on waterways and drainages if this matter must be addressed appropriately so that people do not continue to suffer in this manner every year. You can see that what we are confronted with presently is far more than what happened in the past.
“And given the magnitude of the situation at hand we call on the Federal Government to urgently intervene in the problem because the flood has rendered many residents of Makurdi homeless.”
Lamenting further, Ortom said the problem came at the time his administration was facing the challenge of salary payment. He advised those living on flood prone areas across the state to relocate immediately.
He also directed the State Emergency Management Agency to liaise with the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, for the purpose of assisting the displaced persons.
The governor specifically requested the Federal Government to consider the release of ecological funds to Benue, saying “if urgent steps were not taken, we might have a repeat of the sad experience of 2012.”