Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Floods sweep across seven provinces, repairs begin in Sihanoukville

Fourteen excavators have been deployed in Sihanoukville to enlarge sewage canals in the wake of a storm that flooded seven provinces, knocking out power, killing at least four people and forcing the evacuations of more than 1,000 families.

Record rainfalls swept across the country from late last week, submerging roads and houses under flash flooding and causing widespread damage to rice fields. The provinces of Kampot, Koh Kong, Mondulkiri, Preah Sihanouk and Ratanakiri were among those most heavily affected.

Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Kouch Chamroeun said the longer-term solution for flooding in Sihanoukville was improving the flow of storm water and sewage.

Canals in the city have been encroached upon by construction amid a Chinese-driven gambling tourism boom, and were closed off in March because untreated sewage was being flushed into the sea. Wastewater was instead diverted to the city’s four treatment plants.

Chamroeun said he had acquired 14 excavators for urgent work on the city’s wastewater systems.

“We are going to remove all mud and garbage from the canals,” he told reporters while inspecting the city’s flooding, in a video posted to his Facebook page on Sunday. “We will repair all the canals to make sure that in the case of floods, the flooding in the city can be reduced.”

Floodwaters remained in some parts of Sihanoukville and Prey Nop district as the excavators began their work to clear the canals.

“The serious flooding of the past few days has shocked the people of Sihanoukville,” Chamroeun said, adding that he recognized the work would only be a start.

“It’s true that I might not be able to … ensure that Sihanoukville will never flood, but I have learned the root of the problem,” he said.

The work would not be easy considering the rows of private property lining the city’s canals. Compensation would be provided where residences and other buildings needed to be removed in order to widen the sewage channels, he said.

“Cooperate with our working group to repair and expand the canal … It might be expanded into your legally owned property but we won’t take your land,” Chamroeun said.

He also appealed to the city’s residents to stop building into the boundaries of the waterways.

“Please, stop any construction and infilling of land that encroaches upon the canals,” he said. “It impacts all the people in the city; it is causing disasters; it has damaged people’s properties and has led to the loss of lives.”

At least three people have been confirmed dead as a result of the storm and flooding in Preah Sihanouk.

Chuon Narin, chief of the provincial police, identified one of the deceased as 45-year-old Chinese national Chia Qing Qing, who was killed on Friday after a wall collapsed at a brick factory in Prey Nop district.

Two Cambodian construction workers were also killed in Sihanoukville’s Muoy commune on Thursday, Major General Narin added.

“The workers had built a small shelter near a brick wall,” Narin said. “As a result of the heavy rain, the wall collapsed and crushed them.”

Keo Vy, spokesman for the National Committee for Disaster Management, said that in Ratanakiri thousands of families in five communes in the districts of Lumphat and Kon Mom had been hit by flooding.

Nationwide, 1,176 families were evacuated from dangerous floodwaters Vy said.

A 15-year-old girl drowned in Ratanakiri on Friday, he added.

Seven schools, two pagodas, 2,772 hectares of rice, 748 hectares of the other crops and 16 kilometers of roads were also damaged or destroyed by the flooding, he said.

Though floodwaters were abating in most areas, rain would continue to fall especially in parts of the country bordering Vietnam, Vy said.

Kun Kim, the committee’s first vice president, said on Friday that 70 rescue boats had been deployed in Ratanakiri to help stranded residents.

“We have to help the vulnerable people and evacuate them to safe locations — the elderly, children and handicapped people,” Kim said while visiting the province, adding that the areas would likely continue to be flooded for over a week.

Meanwhile, the Water Resources Ministry warned residents living near the Sangke River in Battambang province to be on alert for water levels rising.

Uch Sokhon, Battambang’s provincial police chief, yesterday ordered his officers to be ready to intervene as the river rose.

The Health Ministry’s communicable disease control department on Sunday published a series of instructional videos for residents on how to protect themselves from diseases during floods, while Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday issued a statement on his Facebook page about the floods inundating the country.

“People are at risk from the rising water,” Hun Sen said. “Please keep an eye on the news and be careful when going fishing or driving because the provinces are facing floods.”