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Death toll rises in Cameroon flooding, which has displaced thousands

From Tapang Ivo Tanku, for CNN
updated 2:00 AM EDT, Fri September 21, 2012
  • More bodies discovered floating in Cameroon flood waters
  • Nearly a month of heavy rain has destroyed homes and farms and killed livestock
  • A dam fracture has caused a river to flood villages and is blamed for drownings

Maroua, Cameroon (CNN) -- Cameroon authorities have found six more bodies in flood waters, bringing the number killed to as high as 40 in the wake of tropical downpours and the breaching of a dam in the west African country.

The inundation in the Far North Region has affected more than 26,000, officials said Thursday, and in neighboring Nigeria at least 15 deaths are blamed on waters rushing into the country from Cameroon's compromised Lagdo Dam on the Benoue River.

Cameroon's Communication Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary has described the flooding as "a calamity" and called for urgent action to save lives and property. Local officials are calling it the worst flood disaster in over 60 years.

Water has submerged swaths of the North Region downstream, wiping out homes, farms and livestock, and Cameroon's government has dispatched a military contingency to assist and evacuate victims.

Aid agencies Plan International Cameroon and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) fear infectious diseases - in particular cholera and malaria - could spread with the water, as is often the case. About 3,000 people have been hospitalized, and tents have been erected to house victims.

In 2010, flooding in northern Cameroon triggered an outbreak of cholera that claimed nearly 6,000 lives, according to official estimates.

Thousands of children are suffering from respiratory problems brought on by the flooding, and malaria infections among pregnant women are running high, according to Dr Alain Njiki of the UNFPA, which normally offers reproductive health services in Cameroon but has had to double as a medical aid agency since the flooding began.

Food supplies are running low, boosting worries about malnutrition, and tent shelters are inadequate for the tens of thousands of displaced flood victims, said Demian Toh from the Red Cross.

Cameroon's president Paul Biya and a delegation of ministers Thursday offered supplies and vaccination kits in UN camps for internally displaced persons. A flood victim in one camp who preferred anonymity said the government assistance is too small and sidelining thousands of families.

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