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At least 72 dead as floods devastate southeast Ethiopia
Updated: 2005-04-27 09:38

At least 72 people have been killed, 100 reported missing and thousands made homeless by devastating floods that have swept southeastern Ethiopia, officials said.

People, housing and livestock have been washed away by raging waters from Wabe Shebell river which burst its banks at the weekend after days of heavy rains, submerging more than 30 villages in the remote region, they said.

"The death toll right now stands at 72," said Ahmed Abdi Mouhamoud, a World Food Programme (WFP) official in Godie 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) southeast of Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia's Red Cross and Red Crescent Society, which is delivering humanitarian supplies to flood-hit areas, said 100 people had been reported missing but could not say if that number included the 72 confirmed deaths.

"Families are reporting about 100 people still unaccounted for," Hassan Mohammed, a Red Cross official, told AFP.

Mouhamoud said that some 31 villages in the areas around Godie and Mustahil, 120 kilometers (74 miles) away, were under water and that the death toll could be significantly higher than 72.

"People are facing very serious danger," he said. "We have reports of serious flooding in those areas."

He said that emergency shipments of blankets, plastic sheeting, cooking utensils, high-energy biscuits and medical supplies have arrived in Godie from Addis Ababa and would be distributed by two helicopters throughout the region.

Mouhamoud said the river was beginning to subside but stressed that the situation in Godie and Mustahil was far from safe as the rush of receding waters had the potential to cause further damage.

"Even though the water level is decreasing, the danger is still very serious," he said, noting that no proper disaster survey had yet been completed.

"We are unable to go downstream on the river to see any person or animals, anything that was washed away," Mouhamoud said.

The flooding, which began on Saturday, followed days of uninterrupted rain in the highlands to the north of the affected area in Ethiopia's Somali state and hit most villages at night, taking sleeping residents by surprise.

On Monday, an official in West Emi district in the state, said people were still clinging to trees in a desperate attempt to avoid being swept away by the flood waters.

Before the flooding the area had been repeatedly hit by drought.

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