At least one person died and a number of properties were damaged after heavy rainfall caused flooding in the coastal city of Sihanoukville on Tuesday night.
Sihanoukville police chief Tey Visal said that authorities on Wednesday morning found the body of a man who drowned in an overfilled canal in Buon commune. He was believed to be a Chinese national, though he has not yet been identified.
“This year the flood is so strong that it affects people’s living, their house, and their property,” he said.
Kheang Phearom, spokesman for Preah Sihanouk Province told CamboJA, that the heavy rain started Tuesday evening, rapidly dropping between 12 and 30cm of rain across parts of Sihanoukville.
“At around 10 pm the flooding receded,” said Phearom.
Phearom said that officials have started to evaluate the extent of the damage to properties and land, and will post a report of their findings on the provincial administration’s website.
“We cannot tell the specifics about the damage yet because our expert officials are going down to evaluate,” he said.
He said flooding has been worsening in recent years and that the government has been trying to mitigate the impact with drainage systems.
“We dug the canals deeper already — if we had not deepened the canals the rain would not have receded at 10 pm,” Phearom said.
“In fact, almost all communes flooded in Sihanoukville but some communes are very flooded, some communes are only moderately flooded. The worst flooding is in Buon commune,” he added.
The provincial administration is urging people to remain alert as further rain is forecast. “So citizens should find a safe place, do not leave home unnecessarily and do not travel on steep slopes and overflowing roads.”
Phearom said the worsening flooding was primarily due to climate change, but noted that development played a role too as floodplains and paddy fields were filled in for building sites.
“We say the country is developing. In Phnom Penh as well, when there is heavy rain, it will flood but if the canal system is good, it will not flood for long and [the water] will recede fast,” said Phearom.
Groups that work on urban planning and environmental issues have long urged the government to protect natural drainage systems in Cambodia’s cities, warning that flooding will grow worse without proper planning. Sihanoukville in particular has seen a massive explosion of haphazard construction in recent years.
Sreng Vanly, coordinator of rights group Licadho in Preah Sihanouk province, said that a number of natural reservoirs and canals have been filled in to make room for more buildings.
“Some reservoirs belonging to the state also were filled, such as Boeng Prey Tup region at Ekkareach [Independence] Beach,” Vanly said, noting that the drainage systems can no longer handle heavy amounts of rain.
He said the problem has been worsened by a lack of trash collection in the city, which sees many people disposing of garbage in canals, further blocking them.
“If the company collects the garbage on time and the people help to keep the garbage [in the right place], it also reduces flooding too,” said Vanly.
Vanly said that authorities should continue to restore canals and streams across the city, rather than only in some areas, and there should be better enforcement to prevent illegal construction.
“I think that the authorities should restore drainage and canals more and the authorities need to inspect any illegal constructions along the canals or streams,” said Vanly.
Nhem Sochea, 41, a villager in Sihanoukville Buon commune said that the flooding damaged many homes and vehicles along his street.
“It flooded some areas in Buon commune between 0.5 meters to more than 1 meters,” Sochea said. “I think that the rain is flooding because of the building construction and there are not enough drainage systems.”
He said that some houses and buildings in his neighborhood are built on the canals where the excess water previously flowed during rainstorms.
“It flooded for three years during the rainy season but this time it seriously flooded even though the canals were dug deeper,” said Sochea.
With the worsening flooding, Sochea said he fears for his family’s safety. On Tuesday, he said, his 8-year-old son was playing outside the house when his flip-flops slipped into the water rushing past the house. The boy went to grab them, only to be pulled away himself.
“My son was swept away by the current more than 30 meters from my house but luckily, he caught a piece of concrete paving stone and my relative helped to rescue him,” said Sochea.
The Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology released said Tuesday that moderate to heavy rainfall will continue across Cambodia from August 25 to August 31, and called for vigilance due to the possibility of lightning strikes, strong winds, and high waves in coastal regions.
(Additional reporting by Sam Sopich)