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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sad day in Accra

Two nights ago we had 2 really bad storms, one in the early evening and one in the middle of the night. Heavy rain and the worst thunder/lightening I've ever seen. Last night we had some more rain, but nothing like I wouldn't expect to see in Scotland.

Turns out it has been far too much for the poor sewage system in Accra to cope with. We woke up this morning to tales of flooding, destruction and death. Literally metres from our apartment (we're on a hill and oblivious to all that's going on around us). Businesses at the local market have been destroyed, roads have turned into muddy tracks, lamposts have fallen down, and houses have been flooded.

Our electricity went off at 2am. As we later found out, this was because an electricity cable had gone down in a river and was making the recovery of bodies impossible - so the electricity supply for much of the city was turned off.

I went to work today to hear that one of my colleagues was concerned about her parents, whose house flooded during the night. As there was no electricity at work, 4 of us piled into a taxi and headed for the house where we spent the day mopping up flood water and sorting through piles upon piles of personal belongings thrown outside. The flood water had reached waist height during the night, evident by the plaster that had fallen off the walls. The destruction was incredible. I was taken around the local area to see rubbish and personal belongings lying everywhere - i've never seen anything like it. I was also told about a 24 year old girl who died during the night after being crushed by a falling wall. Unfortunately, somebody decided to share the photos with me - not something I particularly wanted to see.

Yet amongst all this chaos and destruction, people continued to smile and laugh and went out of their way to make me feel welcome. In saying that, I was there with the intention of helping, whereas they kept insisting I sit down - take a break, have a drink, etc etc. I went outside at one point to help with the sorting, to be told 'go back inside, it's dirty' - I said no, and dug in. I'm not sure that I managed to contribute much, but I certainly feel like I've done a day's hard graft - I ache all over!

Speaking to colleagues, I found out that this sort of thing happens annually, usually between May and July in Accra's rainy season. It is unusual for this to happen in October. The main causes are the poor sewage system (open sewers in many cases) and the heaps of rubbish thrown in the street which clog the sewers. Apparently, many people are reluctant to pay for refuse collections, so when it rains they take that as an opportunity to wash their rubbish away. The traffic in Accra is chaotic at the best of times, but when something like this happens it just adds to the crazyness. The roads around the main roundabout (Circle) - which I assumed were tarmac - turned into a mass of red mud making driving conditions even more hazardous.

All in all, a very difficult day. Bring on tomorrow - Royal Visit from Princess Anne, and then free drinks/snacks at some ex-pat event that we've decided to go along to. I can definitely use that drink!

R x

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