More rain is expected this weekend when a tropical storm arrives in Cambodia, worsening floods that have already killed 18 and forced more than 25,000 people to evacuate to higher ground in 19 provinces since early October, according to the National Committee for Disaster Management.
Tropical storm Saudel is expected to bring heavy rains to lowland provinces including Siem Reap, Battambang, Pursat, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Speu, Kandal and Phnom Penh, once it makes landfall in Vietnam on October 17 and continues on to Cambodia, the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology said in a statement.
Officials said the rain is expected to exacerbate flooding that has damaged more than 1,500 kilometers of roads, and 50,000 houses in 19 provinces since October 9, with Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Pailin, Phnom Penh and Pursat bearing the brunt of the destruction, said Khun Sokha, spokesman for the NCDM.
He said authorities are working with provincial officials and the military’s search and rescue unit to continue saving people who are stuck in their homes, with 25,190 already safely evacuated to higher ground.
“Seeing this forecast, now we have prepared the forces and necessary means to evacuate people from the danger zone,” Sokha said. “We prioritize one principle – that at all costs, the people will not be in danger. We are prepared for the upcoming scenario.”
“We are monitoring the forecast, and paying attention to the provinces in the east of Cambodia and the west provinces,” he said. “We are also raising awareness among villagers to monitor the forecast. Both national and local authorities are paying close attention to provinces at risk. If the situation is worsening, the forces are ready to rescue the villagers at those areas.”
Food, drinking water, and other necessities had been dispersed to families who are trapped at home and those who have already been evacuated, he added.
The flooding has also damaged about 284 kilometers of national and provincial roads and 1,459 kilometers of dirt road, according to the NCDM, with large trucks banned from traveling on national roads 2, 3, 4, and 5 in Kandal province to prevent further destruction.
As of Friday, NCDM estimated that 51,133 houses, and 439 schools have been damaged in the natural disaster, which has also destroyed 137,160 hectares of rice paddy and 67,490 hectares of subsidiary crops.
Flash floods have also caused dams to breach in Kampong Speu, Kirirom and Stung Prek Thnot in Takmao.
In Banteay Meanchey, one of the worst-hit provinces, the rising floodwaters have forced local authorities to evacuate more than 1,600 prisoners out of the province, according to Banteay Meanchey Prison Chief Ung Siphan.
On October 13 and 14 the prisoners were driven by truck to other detention centers in Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey, Kampong Thom, and Tbong Khmum provinces, he said, adding that prisoners in the province were also evacuated in 2013 due to widespread flooding.
“At the start of evacuation, the water had not yet gotten inside the building,” he said. “But as soon as the evacuation finished on the 14th, the water started to fill in the building. The prisoners were already gone.”
Flooding in Phnom Penh this year has been the worst since 2016, said Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey, explaining that Phnom Penh had received 190mm of rainfall this week, compared to a normal rainy season average of 105mm.
Municipal authorities have tried to mitigate the effects of the flood by pumping water out of Boeung Toumpun and Boeng Choeng Ek, two lakes that are crucial rainwater storage points in the city.
As of Thursday, five communes in Dangkor district have flooded with some residents evacuated to higher ground at Prek Chrey market.
“We are still coordinating the evacuation because some people are still in the [flooded] locations,” Pheakdey said. “We have not counted them yet as we are still trying to take them from the affected area to the evacuation zone.”
“Our main focus and priority now is to bring people to the evacuation site because it’s about saving their lives,” he said.
On October 15, Prime Minister Hun Sen visited people who had been evacuated from their homes in Dangkor district, and called on authorities to focus on saving lives and providing food and clean water to those who have been evacuated.
“All provinces pay attention to flood protection,” he said. “The biggest priority in this mission is to save people’s lives from drowning because we didn’t manage to rescue them.”
The prime minister emphasized that the flooding in Phnom Penh is a natural disaster, and told people not to assume that the filling in of lakes and wetlands near the capital for urban development has caused flood.
Donations for flood victims have reached $6 million dollars, he said, $800,000 of which has been used.
Mao Vannak, 41, a housewife who lives in Choam Chao commune at the edge of Dangkor district, told CamboJA her house has been flooded since Tuesday, and that in a normal year, her area usually experiences only minimal flooding during heavy rain.
“I was returning from the province, and when I arrived home at around 8 [in the evening], the water had already filled my house,” she said. “It’s been four days already. I have never seen any flooding here in the 10 years that I have been living here.”
She said she and her family did not know where to stay while their home remains underwater, and called on authorities to take measures to prevent future floods.
“I hope after this the authorities could restore the pipe and sewage system better so it could help [mitigate the floodwater],” she said.