Caroline Ogbotobo, 48, without minding if she gets drowned, moved swiftly through the dirty water that had engulfed the entire Abari village — a coastal community in Delta State, to rescue to a rooftop her children and others displaced by floods.
Mrs Ogbotobo alongside dozens of residents of her community sought refuge in an uncompleted storey building.
They were without food, potable water and any form of medication for several days. She said the rooftop was their only hope for survival pending when succour would arrive.
“We are dying; we are very hungry. Please help us,” Mrs Ogbotobo screamed last October, on sighting this reporter approaching the submerged building in a boat.
“The water chased us out, we didn’t know where to stay. If not for this house, we don’t even know where we would have been by now,” the mother of five said.
Delta flood disaster
Between September and October 2022, many Nigerian towns were hit by floods.
The floods displaced over 1.4 million Nigerians across 26 of the 36 states in the country, according to official figures.
More than 600 citizens were killed, while 2,407 people sustained various degrees of injuries, over 108,393 hectares of farmlands across the country were swept off and 200,000 houses were damaged, the government said.
During a visit in late October, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that several people were drowned and over 3,233 households displaced from their homes as floods worsened across the Abari community of the Pantani Local Government Area, Delta State.
The Delta State-owned University of Science and Technology, Ozoro, was partially submerged. Same with the secretariat of the Isoko North Local Government Area and other public and private facilities.
Farmlands were washed off in parts of the Ugbolu and Anwai areas of Asaba, the state capital.
The Abari community was indeed one of the worst affected areas in Delta State. The floods forced many in the community to take shelter in three different storey buildings.
Over 200 villagers were trapped in the buildings, one resident said.
This, however, was not the first time residents of the community had experienced floods of such magnitude.
Abari, in Patani Local Government Area of Delta State, is one of the communities on the bank of the River Niger. It is largely a fishing and farming community.
PREMIUM TIMES reported in 2021 the devastating impacts of the perennial floods in the Abari community, with experts warning that if actions were not taken, the community might go into extinction within the next 20 to 30 years.
The degree of the flood experienced suggests the countdown may have just begun.
“Inside my own house, the water engulfed me to my chest level before I quickly moved upstairs,” Mrs Ogbotobo narrated.
Having lost everything to the disaster, she is now struggling for survival.
Another victim, Preowei Kendabie, 54, described the flood disaster as the worst they had experienced in a decade.
“We have never seen a flood like this one at all,” he said.
“Right now, we are at the mercy of God,” said another displaced resident, Fraka Amabetare.
“The whole town is flooded. No single house, no single place. We are suffering. Some of the houses, you cannot even see the top of their roof now,” Mr Amabetare, 39, said, pointing towards the submerged buildings in the community.
Previous reports had shown the vulnerability of the shoreline in the community. And residents had been crying for the government to construct a viable shoreline.
That was before the shoreline finally collapsed due to the flooding.
“The waterside (shoreline) is flooded. The worst part of it is that the tide current from the upstream is coming into the community,” Mr Kendabie said.
He explained the danger of going near the shoreline area. “Now, if you go to that place, the current is sure to push you down and that is just the end of your life,” he said.
Loss of livelihood, starvation
“I am telling you that everywhere is flooded, you are talking about feeding. How are we going to eat if we do not farm?” Mr Amabetare said with a shaky voice when asked how they were being catered for.
Being predominantly farmers, and having their farmlands washed off, the disaster has brought starvation to the Abari community.
Mr Kendabie, a cassava and plantain farmer, said when the water volume was increasing, they quickly harvested some crops, but they lost a lot of the crops to the flood.
As for Mrs Ogbotobo, she is scared of the hunger that looms among the displaced residents. She said they have been sipping garri (cassava flakes) since they were displaced by the flood.
“Hunger wants to kill us here,” she said.
Boats, with exorbitant fares, remained the only means of transportation from the community to other communities
Boat fares have increased from a range of N2,500 – N3,000 to a range of N4,000 and N5,000, Mr Kendabie said.
He said, “Right now, we are trying to manage the situation, we have no solid plan for evacuation yet because even the neighbouring communities are also flooded.
“Government should please help us, we do not want this to be the end of the road for us.”
The Federal Government in its 2022 Annual Flood Outlook collated by the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) alerted the public of incoming floods.
The report predicted there would be coastal flooding due to tidal surges and a rise in sea levels in Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Lagos, Ogun, and Ondo States.
It warned that at least 32 states and 233 local government areas were at high risk of being flooded due to heavy rainfall.
However, there seems to have been no proper communication between the government and the residents of the communities on what proactive measures to take before the flood occurred.
The Chairman of the Abari community, Peter Pibowei, said some people had “decided to evacuate for safety, while some are at the mercy of God right now”.
He said food scarcity was one of their main worries.
“We have been making appeals on behalf of the community since 2012 and it’s getting tiring,” he said.
Both the Delta State information commissioner, Charles Aniagwu, and his environment counterpart, Christian Onogba, did not return calls and messages asking how the government plans to support the affected residents of the Abari community.
However, at the peak of the disaster in October, the Delta State government opened 10 camps to accommodate Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) impacted by the flood in 19 out of 25 Local Government Areas of the state.
The state governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, also promised that the government would resettle the affected individuals once the water receded.
The water has since receded and many of the residents gradually returning to their normal lives. However, many still count their losses from the floods.