29 October, 2008

Hadhramout: after the Storm

It has rained here in Al Mukalla this morning; almost two hours of continuous rain. And streams of water, are again flowing into the city. These are photos I took this morning:

After it rained this morning, there were still dark clouds over the mountains, in the distance.

Even before the rains, most streets were still wet and many were still flooded. There are still troops of clouds formed on the mountains nearby; weather forecasts predict that, all will be clear and very sunny by Saturday. That seems a long time away. We have always prayed for rain here; now - we are praying that it stops. Immediately stops.

So far, the damage and destruction done by the rains and floods here in Hadhramaut, has been extensive to infrastructure. And painful. Hundreds have lost their lives; 200 is the official number of lives lost so far, but this will increase to many more. Collecting statistics and data is difficult here; many of the affected places are remote and difficult to reach. Tens of thousands have lost their homes; especially in Wady Hadhramout where the mud brick houses can not stand rain and flood waters for long - they simply crumble. There are many houses there which are still standing now, but are no longer safe for people to live or be in, as they have cracks or are slowly going down.

In Wady Hadhramout, from what I have learnt - some villages have been almost completely destroyed. From Sa'ah to Tarim, to Saum through Sweyree (it's in Sweyree that most of the carcasses of livetsock and human bodies are being collected by choppers) and AlQatn - many houses have gone down; and cultivated land and livestock have been washed away. Thousands are homeless or displaced. I have been told that in the village of Gassam, most houses have collapsed. The situation is no better in Wady Al'ain, Wady Doan and Wady Amed. Before the floods got worse and as the rains continued, most people of the Old City of Shibam fled their homes and went to live with relatives and friends, and returned later to find their homes still standing, but some were damaged; the newer houses of Shibam were also affected and damaged, but so far from what I know - the situation is not that bad there. I understand, as the rains continued and flood waters increased, Old Shibam was completely surrounded by water and there was a danger of water rising and entering the walled city. The only major residential areas here in Hadhramout that, so far, have been spared from widespread devastation are - She'her, Ghail Bawazeer, Ghail Bin Yumain and Hajar in the West.

Here in Mukalla, the rains and the floods has killed many too; and destroyed roads, bridges and a few old houses. Electricity is working most of the time in most parts of the city now, and phones and the Internet - though slow - are working; but piped running water isn't back yet. And that's the most difficult problem here, now; the people concerned are working around the clock, day and night, to get all necessary services running and working as before. But human nature is such that, we are always impatient and want things back to normal fast; most people here don't realize that - had the cyclone hit too, the damage done would have been more tragic. Then there is the problem of sewage and drainage pipes being blocked; and the many pools of standing water. As some of the sewage is now seeping out into the streets, there is now great danger of waterborne diseases breaking out. Below are some photos of some of Mukalla's streets after the floods:

The flood water- carrying rocks, stones and all kinds of things wich they swept on their ways - were so powerful, they easily tore roads apart.

And swept and turned whatever was on its path.

Even bulldozers had no chance against the powers of the gushing waters. Notice the children playing and swimming in this pool of water - there was a bridge here just a few days ago; if the waters become infectious, such children would easily be infected. Below, yesterday, most streets were still wet and muddy

Relief and rescue efforts are still ongoing in all the worse affected areas; but this is being hampered by broken roads and the very remoteness of some of the affected places. What has greatly helped in focusing attention to the disaster zones of Hadhramout and Mahra, is the visit by the President here immediately when the rains and floods started; he visited all the worse affected areas and quickly set up a commission to properly handle and take care of rescue and relief efforts; and the rebuilding of infrastructure.

What has helped most here too, is the resilience and caring nature of people. Relatives care and give shelter to other relatives; neighbours always give a helping hand. When the floods were sweeping through Mukalla, several brave men risked their lives to help or save others who could have been swept away; they helped quickly in getting children, women and the weak from buses and cars stuck in the floods - to safety.

Thursday Evening: since morning, it has been very sunny and the skies are all clear and blue here in Mukalla. Having spent all my childhood and early manhood in East Africa - with much rain most of the year, I love rain and am very used to it. But this time, I am celebrating for their being no more rains any more.