Floods have become a regular annual occurrence in Accra, and are therefore not strange at all to the residents of Ghana’s capital city. With the onset of rains every year they have to contend with the discomfort, destruction and loss that come along with flooding caused by torrential rainfall.
However, the disaster that hit the city on June 3, 2015 was unprecedented. Not even the oldest resident could tell when a thing like that had ever been seen in recent memory.
A combination of extreme floods caused by several hours of heavy rain, and an explosion at a sales point of the Ghana Oil Company (Goil) at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle claimed about 200 lives and displaced thousands of residents.
Places that were most affected included the low-lying areas along the Odaw River channel, including parts of Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Avenor and Alajo. Also to be recalled were dramatic scenes in which strong flood waters swept cars and trucks into open storm drains that run through Nima and Kokomlemle suburbs.
An official explanation by the Ghana National Fire Service at the time said preliminary investigation had indicated that flood waters may have sank into underground fuel storage tanks and displaced some fuel which got ignited by open fire which had broken out a few meters from the fuel station; then the flames burned in a trail along the spilt fuel back to the storage tanks to cause the explosion.
Certainly, the June 3 disaster is one tragedy residents of Accra and the nation as a whole will continue to remember for quite some time.
As part of its coverage of the first anniversary of the disaster, the Ghana News Agency (GNA) visited some of the affected areas and interacted with residents not only about their lives, but also about the lessons that could be drawn from the tragedy that visited the city a year ago.
A very striking, emotional spectacle can be seen at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle where the twin fire and flood disaster was most devastating. Residents there have put up a banner with the pictures of the some of their deceased neighbours and traders who lost their lives and a phone number for donation to the only known survivor whom all refer to as ‘Mr Lee’.
Most of the drivers have put up posters with the pictures of their late colleagues pasted on their vehicles in commemoration of the anniversary of their deaths, which falls today, Friday, June 3, 2016.
An unknown artist has also created a replica scene of that fateful night with the figure of a man, made from white plastic rubbers, carrying a black body, representing the charred remains of those burnt in the fire.
Some residents and traders at the Circle who spoke to the GNA blamed the ongoing construction of the Interchange for the severe floods. According to them, the construction works had blocked the waterways thus causing the extreme flooding on the night of the disaster.
Alex, who sells Bibles and other Christian literature close to the Ghana Commercial Bank, not very far from the afore-mentioned Goil filling station, said prior to the start of work on the interchange, there had never been floods of the magnitude witnessed on June 3.
“I have sold on these streets since 1991, from Orion Cinema to Neoplan Station and now at the Commercial Bank, there had never been such severe floods at Circle, but immediately this project began, the floods started”, he said, and urged the engineers of Qieroz Galvao, the Brazilian company executing the project, to construct adequate drains and gutters to allow rain water to flow through easily.
Alex bemoaned the incident, which claimed lives, some of whom he knew personally. “The only survivor, Mr Lee is my in-law. His condition was pathetic,” he stated. “Have they even given them the money they were promised? Where did that money go?” he quizzed.
Another resident who wished to remain anonymous, said government should demolish the interchange as it was the cause of the problems. “Tell President Mahama to demolish the overhead, it is the cause of all the deaths.”
However, Moses Annor, a Jack hammer operator at the construction site, disagreed with the assertion that the construction had been a major cause of the flooding, arguing that the de-silting of the Odaw River and drains around the area prior to the floods had rather helped the water to recede.
The Manager of the Shell filling station, located beside the Vienna City, who also wished to remain anonymous said the severity of the flood on that night was caused by the burst of two big pipes in the area. He said prior to the rains, the Goil filling station had been discharging
fuel but had to stop when it started raining, as required by law.
However, they forgot to close their valve, allowing the water to get into the underground storage tanks, thereby displacing the oil and pushing it to the surface to mix with the flood waters. He alleged the fire was started at the market behind the Commercial Bank and spread through the areas towards the filling station, attracted by the floating fuel. “It worsened when it reached some Indomie sellers who were using gas cylinders which exploded from the fire and then got to the half emptied fuel tanker at the station”, he explained.
He said Ghanaians were quick to blame government for such disasters, although they were the cause of the problems with their behaviour, such as indiscriminate littering which clogs the drains and prevents the rain water from flowing out.
A driver who plies the Circle-Accra route said most of the drivers usually parked at the Goil fuel station to wait out the rain, but did not know something like that will happen on that fateful day. He said most of them thought the fuel leakage was from the Shell station opposite the Goil and rather took shelter at the latter, hence the huge casualties.
He said although they still worked there, they were more careful now, especially whenever it started to rain. “We are all careful. This is where we eat so we cannot say we won’t work there again because people died there. It is painful because we worked with most of the mates who died.”
Madam Afia Serwaa, a trader at the Neoplan station near Circle said the flood waters filled the room where she kept the second hand towels, locally made slippers and other wares she normally sells, destroying them along with a fridge which she used to sell iced water.
Grace Frimpomaa, an elderly woman who said she had been selling in the Circle vicinity since 1979, and had taken care of her two children and some siblings with the proceeds from the business, also lost most of her wares in the flood including rice, soap and other commodities. She had only been able to restart her business from the money her children gave to her.
Joyce Pokua, who was also affected said she no longer bought their wares in bulk as she feared they may lose it again when it floods.
Sellers at the Odawna market bemoaned the tragic incident on June 3, saying that sales at the market had dropped since then. They said the news of dead bodies found in the area deterred most buyers from buying the food they sold at the market. The traders said they lost all their wares in the flood, as they always left them at the market at the close of day for the lack of storage space.
At the Kaneshie Market, another area that was severely hit by the June 3 disaster, traders have appealed to the Government and the city authorities to find ways of controlling
the floods that are likely hit the city in the coming of the rains.
Some traders including Madam Cynthia Larkai who expressed their concerns, said they had not seen the city authorities doing anything concrete to avert any flooding should it happen again this year.
Mrs Esther Asamoah-Williams, a cloth dealer, said because the Government as the biggest authority with all the technology and the resources at its disposal, should rise up to the challenge and resolve the problem which was well beyond any individual’s effort.
“We do not want be given loans to buy wares when they are destroyed by floods only to lose them again the next year when it rains and have to go for another loan we will struggle to repay”, said one trader.
The GNA observed that most of the traders at both the Kaneshie and Odawna markets had put measures in place to safeguard their wares, including the building of platforms to place their goods. Some had also raised the walls at the entrance to their shops to prevent rainwater from getting in.
Throughout these interactions, one dominant theme that ran through was the almost certain anticipation by residents that there would be a recurrence of another flood disaster, and that they stood the risk of losing their property again in this year’s rainy season.
Celestina Alormatu a trader at Odawna, said the market still flooded when it rained because the wall around the big gutter behind the Ghana Commercial Bank was broken down to allow vehicles swept into it in the wake of the June 3 flood to be removed and had not been rebuilt since. This allowed the rain water to spill over into the market, flooding it.
The other curious observation is that almost all the residents the GNA spoke to admitted even if tacitly, that they contributed to the perennial flooding that has become everyone’s nightmare. Beyond that they are also aware of what they should do to avert such calamities – keeping the gutters clean, and refraining from leaving the silt and rubbish beside the gutters after scooping them out, as this debris would be swept back into the gutter to obstruct water flow and thereby cause flooding eventually.
But then, the question as to how the residents have often failed to act on this knowledge to save themselves remains a mystery that requires deeper scientific study, perhaps.