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Opinions of Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

The day Accra nearly went under the sea in 1995.

By George Sydney Abugri

The floods caught the city literally napping, hav¬ing started at bedtime and gathered enough momen¬tum to flood homes and closed shops by 2 a.m. Not even the weatherman knew the disaster was coming.

In a way the tragic sce¬nario began unfolding with the weatherman's report on a Monday night. The smiling weatherman ap¬peared on television after the seven o'clock news and told residents of the city to expect "light rain".

As it turned out 260 millimeters of rain poured down in torrents on that Mon¬day night, the highest rain¬fall recorded over Accra in more than 30 years.

By Tuesday morning, residents outside the flooded areas were un¬aware of the disaster that had struck the nation's Capital: The flooding of homes, shops and roads; the death of people asleep on parked cars and kiosks which were carried away by the flood; the power blackout which made vol¬unteer rescue operations difficult and increased the terror of residents.

Commuters from Accra West who were heading for the commercial, admin¬istrative and business centers only sensed that there was something wrong when they stopped at the Kaneshie market to switch taxis and buses.

Buses and taxis there were galore in a rather dis¬orderly fleet, but they were going nowhere. For the first time in decades, taxi drivers did not bother to acknowledge offers of dropping" shouted desperately by stranded com¬muters late for work or business appointments.

Soon, an unusually thick and steadily swell¬ing mass of people and motor vehicles at the Kaneshie Market left little standing room for com¬muters. Then began what may aptly be called "The Great Accra Walk ¬1995".

As if a signal had been given the mass of people began a march toward Kwame Nkrumah Circle. A three man Graphic team in an Editorial Department car monitored the march that started off from Kaneshie Market at the pace of a dying snail be¬cause of the solid traffic jam all the way to Obetsebi-Lamptey Circle and beyond.

Thousands of pairs of feet trudged through the muddy slime along the roadside. There were civil servants, school children, traders, and brief case ¬wielding businessmen plodding along in sandals, boots, bathroom slippers, high heeled shoes, and designer shoes. Many found it convenient to re¬move their shoes and walk bare foot.

The "great march" went both ways. While commuters walked toward Kwame Nkrumah Circle, others from the circle marched toward Kaneshie, the majority of them, travelers who panted under the weight of travelling bags, as they headed for the State Transport Corporation ter¬minus and other lorry parks at Kaneshie. Many would find the lorry parks flooded and have to walk back to circle carrying their travelling bags.

We were later to learn of similar marches on a smaller scale from parts of Accra East, and Accra North toward the heart of the capital.

The Graphic team made the journey from Kaneshie Market to Obetsebi-Lamptey Circle a couple of hundred meters in about one hour. At the Lamptey Circle we turned onto Graphic Road only to realize that motor vehicles bound for Accra were re¬turning to Lamptey Circle on the one way lane. Waist¬ high flood waters had ren¬dered the road too dangerous to drive through.

Our team then turned toward the Kaneshie¬ Kwame Nkrumah Circle road only to be stuck on a solid traffic jam. We had started off from the Kaneshie Market shortly -after 10 O'clock a.m. At 1 p.m. we were still at the New Times Corporation area.

Many motorists late for appointments parked by the roadsides, locked up their cars and joined the mass march towards Kwame Nkrumah Circle. It was a day when mobile telephones came in handy. Owners of the gadgets sat in the jam transacting business, cancelling ap¬pointments or explaining their predicament by phone.

On the bridge over the Odaw River, two large groups of people had gath¬ered on both sides of the 'bridge staring down into the river and shouting. Our team got out to inves¬tigate.

Two groups of young men had constituted themselves into a Salvage Crew of sorts. Reaching down rather dangerously across the sides of the bridge with outstretched arms they fished out valu¬ables floating down from upstream. A tin of "milo", a shoe, a box of biscuits, a shirt. Anytime an item was fished out a jubilant shout went up among the crowd.

Kwame Nkrumah Circle was a mess. It was as if marching vandals with a hatred for scenic beauty had contrived to undo all that the contro¬versial Salifu Amankwa had done to make the Circle beautiful. Amankwa was an army sergeant who was put in charge of discipline and security at the Circle after the December 31 military coup.

The grass lawn looked as if an army of enraged bulls had fought on the lawns. Floodwaters had hurled broken kiosks, refuse, mud, slime, broken furniture and all manner of odds and ends every¬where.

By Wednesday morn¬ing there were stories some of which provoked sadness in some instances, and a giggle in other instances: A man wading through waist-high water a found bottle of schnapps, helped himself to half of the con¬tents and offered the rest to a passing senior public servant who declined to take a drink!

"Dropping" refers of course to car hire over a short distance. At the Kwame Nkrumah Circle a group of young men car¬ried stranded commuters on their backs across the Odaw River for a fee and called the enterprise "drop¬ping".

A rather too fat woman discovered to her chagrin that none of the young men was willing to accept her request for "dropping" across the river. She waded in, slipped, gulped in a couple of mouthfuls of the foul water and was rescued.

No sooner had some members of one household climbed a tree in the com¬pound of their house for safety than the tree fell with a mighty splash into the flooded compound. They were rescued. Horri¬fied spectators watched a dead man in an arm chair floating down stream on the Odaw River from Alajo.

By morning of the next day, as some homeless resi¬dents bemoaned their plights and others tried cleaning the filth from their homes while placing wet valuables out in the sun to dry, the death toll from the flood disaster had risen to more than 20.

With the force of sledge hammers, flood waters smashed glass panels of Rana Motor's show room to splinters and washed the lot away. The waters lifted a huge metal Ship¬ping container like a toy and dumped it right on Graphic road. Heavy chunks of timber meant for wood fuel floated down¬stream with the weight¬lessness of match sticks.

Scape goat hunters went searching for the cause of the flood came up with quite a list: Im-proper refuse disposal, the use of drains in the city as re¬ceptacles for solid waste and the unauthorized construc¬tion of buildings in the way of flood waters.