Rubavu District, Rwanda / Washington — Heavy rains and flooding have killed at least 130 people in Rwanda, officials said Thursday. The country began mass burial of victims, mostly in northern and western provinces.
In a service punctuated by tears and stories from the relatives of the victims, 14 bodies were laid to rest Thursday at Rugerero cemetery, 15 kilometers from Rubavu town in western Rwanda.
“A strong wave hit both of us and she lost hold of the support we were clinging to. That was the last time I saw her alive,” Felix Nteziyaremye said, remembering the last moments with his wife Generose Mukamurenzi, 26, who was buried Thursday. Their 6-month-old baby survived.
Rwandan Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente attended the burial service and said authorities will “continue to ensure that you [victims] have shelter and basic needs.”
A VOA Central Africa Service reporter in western Rwanda said floods destroyed hundreds of houses, roads and other infrastructure in the area. On Wednesday, dozens of vulnerable people were trapped in partially submerged houses as they waited for rescue, the reporter said.
More than 5,100 houses destroyed
The floods that began Tuesday evening have destroyed more than 5,100 houses and impacted an additional 2,500, deputy government spokesperson Alain Mukuralinda told reporters.
Speaking to VOA earlier, Mukuralinda warned that the death toll may be higher and that rescuers are still trying to reach people and properties washed away by flooding.
Affected areas include the districts of Rubavu, Ngororero, Nyabihu, Rutsiro, Karongi, Gakenke, Burera, Musanze and Nyamagabe, according to a statement released by the office of the president on Wednesday.
“We are doing everything within our means to address this difficult situation. I am personally following up the response closely,” President Paul Kagame said in a statement.
The president said ongoing rescue efforts include “evacuation and temporary relocation of residents from affected and high-risk areas while rains are ongoing.”
“I have lost everything,” Nyirabihingwa Florence, a resident of the flood-stricken western province, told VOA. “I had seven houses, 500 chickens, a full food store, many things. Everything has been washed away. I have nothing.”
Witnesses in the area say the floods gained momentum due to the overflowing of the nearby Sebeya River.
Hundreds of people are still missing, and several houses submerged in water are collapsing, witnesses told VOA’s Central Africa Service.
“We saw a powerful wave of flood water sweeping through compounds, ripping through houses and leaving nothing in its wake as we struggled to cling to anything nearby to survive. It was horrific,” Nzayisenga Christine, another resident, recounted.
“We are asking the government to put in place a mechanism that stops this river from overflooding in case of heavy rains such as today.”
A communique from the office of the president says the government has set up a command center to coordinate emergency response.
“We are setting up tents in safer areas where we shall be receiving those affected by the floods as rescue operations continue,” spokesperson Mukuralinda told VOA.
Local authorities overwhelmed
Disasters such as floods and landslides are not uncommon in this part of Rwanda. But the magnitude of the latest occurrence seems to have overwhelmed local authorities who sought intervention on national level.
Meanwhile, the National Meteorological Center recently warned that Rwanda is likely to experience heavy rains in May.
Tuesday’s downpour and floods also extended to parts of southwestern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to local authorities.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.