KINSHASA (The Remnants) – At least 39 people died in flooding on Tuesday in Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo, following torrential rains overnight that caused landslides near the University of Kinshasa, authorities said.
At one site on University Avenue, in a southern suburb, at least three houses and a road collapsed into a ravine. Chunks of concrete and metal roofing could be seen sticking out of the freshly turned orange earth, a Reuters witness said.
The vice governor of Kinshasa province, Néron Mbungu, said rescue workers were continuing to hunt for bodies.
“The loss, in terms of property and lives, is really huge,” said Kinshasa’s vice-governor, Neron Mbungu, adding that the dead included a child who was electrocuted.
Three of the city’s 26 districts were especially badly hit, he said.
A bridge connecting the districts of Lemba and Ngaba collapsed, and another was destroyed in the district of Kisenso, he said.
“Wherever we found death, we gave the mayors the means to bring the bodies to the morgue, and we also made available the means for the wounded to be taken to medical centers,” he said.
One woman wailed and clapped her hands as Red Cross rescue workers carried several bodies to an ambulance.
“My son, my son,” she cried.
Andre Mwamba, whose house had partially collapsed into the ravine on University Avenue, said the heavy rain started at 2 a.m. (0100 GMT) and lasted four hours.
“We started moving things out of the house at around six and then the house started sliding. The neighbors agreed to let us stay with them while we look for another place,” Mwamba told Reuters.
Floods are not unusual in Kinshasa, a city of almost 12 million people with notoriously poor infrastructure and where many neighborhoods are poorly planned, though they rarely cause so many deaths.
In Lemba, there was a gigantic hole, about 10 metres (30 feet) deep and 20 metres (70 feet) across, where a road had been swept away.
The mayor of Lemba, Jean Nsaka, said a drainage ditch had given way under the pressure of the water, and the highway had been engulfed.
Seven other people died in floods and landslides in South Kivu, in the far east of the vast country, local official Seth Wenga said.
Fatal floods and rains are frequent in Kinshasa.
In January last year, around 50 people were killed in landslides and floods and after houses collapsed after just one night of heavy rain.
Flood deaths in Kinshasa are “linked to overpopulation [and] building on land which is vulnerable to flooding,” said Roger-Nestor Lubiku, former head of the Geographical Institute of Congo (IGC).
Africa’s third largest city, Kinshasa counts around 10 million inhabitants – a doubling of the population in less than two decades – and many of them live in precarious dwellings.
“Eighty per cent of the losses are caused by unauthorised constructions,” said Mbungu, the city’s vice-governor.
“People are stubborn and do not respect the building regulations,” he said.
“Even if the state says they shouldn’t build there, they build. And you can see the consequences today.”