Congo flood victims buried en masse as death toll tops 400

May 8 (Reuters) – Dead bodies were still being recovered on Monday from two villages in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where flooding killed more than 400 people last week in one of the deadliest disasters in history recent in the country.

Survivors watched as aid workers piled up corpses in freshly dug mass graves over the weekend, in videos posted online.

Workers spent days recovering mud-covered bodies in the villages of Bushushu and Nyamukubi, both in South Kivu province, where days of torrential rain caused landslides and caused rivers to burst their bed on Thursday.

“We left everything behind,” said Bahati Kabanga, 32, a resident of Bushushu, who managed to save his only child but lost his aunt, nephews and a sister.

“We felt a jolt as it was raining and decided to flee after seeing houses collapsing in the distance,” he told Reuters by phone.

Kabanga and his remaining relatives took refuge in a Catholic school.

“Morale is at zero,” he said. “This type of incident can make you suicidal.”

Just over 400 people are now confirmed dead, South Kivu Governor Theo Ngwabidje Kasi said on Monday, more than doubling the death toll since Friday.

Civil society sources on the ground expect it to rise further as bodies were still floating in rivers and buried under rubble. Hundreds of people are still missing, according to the United Nations.


Congolese civilians gather after the death of family members following the rains which destroyed buildings and forced aid workers to gather bodies covered in mud in piles in the village of Nyamukubi, territory of Kalehe in the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 6, 2023. REUTERS / Stringer

The Congolese Red Cross said 274 people had been buried so far, including 98 women and 82 children.

More than 8,800 other people were affected by the floods, which washed away homes and schools and cut off roads, he added. Destroyed sewage systems and bodies lying in the debris raise sanitation concerns, he said.

Families have been separated and traumatized survivors are taking refuge with other people, the Red Cross added.

“If I hadn’t gone to the market, I might have saved my children,” Jolie Ambika Nathalie, 34, a mother of five, told Bushushu.

The charcoal vendor left her three youngest children at home to run errands when the rain fell. By the time she returned, the house was destroyed and her children aged six, eight and 10 were nowhere to be found.

“There was no trace of the house when I got back,” she told Reuters.

The central government in Kinshasa has not yet published a report. He sent a delegation to the area and declared Monday a national day of mourning.

According to UN climate experts, warming temperatures due to climate change are increasing the intensity and frequency of rainfall in Africa.

This can increase the destruction caused by the floods and landslides that were already frequent in South Kivu. Poor urban planning and weak infrastructure also make it more vulnerable to such events.

Heavy rains also caused flooding and landslides in neighboring Rwanda last week, killing 130 people and destroying more than 5,000 homes.

Reporting by Sonia Rolley Writing by Sofia Christensen Editing by Alexander Winning

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