“Suddenly, the wall where my wife was taking shelter caved in.”

Published: 28 May 2015 15:56 CET

By Gerald Bikombi, Central African Red Cross Society, and Nelly Muluka, IFRC

Etienne, 62, a resident of Berberati town in the Central African Republic, is a broken man. Recent heavy rains and storms changed his life forever, in just a matter of hours.

“We were all in bed when the rains began pounding, accompanied by thunder and lightning. All of a sudden, the wind started howling and the roof started shaking. The whole experience was so vigorous that we were all afraid. Then the iron sheets of our roof started flying away one by one, and I knew we were in danger,” says Etienne.

With the roof blown off, it started raining directly into the house. It was a scene being repeated throughout the neighbourhood. “We took shelter in different corners of the house and waited. Clothes were being blown out of the house along with household items. Then, suddenly, the wall where my wife, Pauline, was taking shelter caved in,” remembers Etienne.

The father of eight did not know what to do. It was still raining heavily and the storms were still active. Etienne and the children started shouting for help but the sounds only disappeared in the roaring of the storm. They moved out of the house and sat under a tree, watching as the walls continued to collapse further. Early in the morning, once the storms had passed, local Red Cross committee volunteers arrived. Miraculously, Pauline was alive and was taken to the Berberati Regional Hospital together with seven other injured people.

“I waited at the hospital as the doctors tried to assist her and prayed that she would survive. Unfortunately, she succumbed to her injuries, leaving me with eight children to look after,” says Etienne, adding that he is completely helpless and does not know what will become of him without his wife, whom he says, was his sole helper.

The storms, which left behind a trail of destruction, totally damaged 200 houses, and partially damaged 11 others. According to the local Red Cross committee assessment, one person lost her life, seven others were injured, and over 1,000 others displaced. Latrines also collapsed which continues to pose a health and sanitation risk. The displaced people are putting up with host families while others are living in the open. The host communities, just like those newly displaced by the storms, have all been affected by the ongoing conflict, leaving both groups extremely vulnerable.  

As the rains continue pounding this area, local Red Cross committee volunteers remain on standby, monitoring the situation, in case they are needed. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has also released 99,788 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund 1,109 people hit hardest by the storms. Among the activities planned, families will receive shelter supplies, household items, and water purification tablets as they start to rebuild their lives.




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