The death toll in floods which left thousands homeless in the Malian capital, Bamako, has risen to 34, officials said.
More than 100 homes, mostly poorly constructed mud-brick buildings on drainage sites, were swept away as the river Niger burst its banks in torrential rain on Wednesday, bringing down bridges and submerging entire streets.
“I have been told of 34 dead. Damage to property is widespread and the evaluation is ongoing,” Die Dao, deputy head of the Department of Civil Protection rescue mission, said on Friday.
Mali’s independent newspapers have reported higher death tolls of up to 50 deaths.
Flooding often leads to widespread displacements and casualties during West Africa’s June to October rainy season, as well as disease outbreaks due partly to poor sanitation.
Local television broadcast images of homeless residents wandering Bamako’s streets, apparently in shock, as others waded through chest-high, fast-flowing muddy water to rescue stranded neighbours.
The old hillside district of Taliko suffered the brunt of the flooding, with victims finding refuge in a primary school equipped with mats, kettles and mosquito nets.
Headmaster Abdoul Konate said the victims were desperate for money and clothes.
“They said that they have lost all their savings. There are 80 of them, about half of whom are children,” he told the AFP news agency.
Elsewhere in Bamako residents told of their horror as water levels began to rise at great speed, with many blaming local government for not maintaining the city’s drains and not providing enough disaster relief in the immediate aftermath.
“I have a family of six people. My mud brick house collapsed in the rain. We have nothing to eat so we need food and also the means to rebuild our house,” Boubacar Coulibaly told AFP.
“Up to now we have received nothing in terms of support.”
Although a major gold producer, impoverished Mali has been deserted by tourists and foreign investors and economic growth is at a 10-year low as the country struggles to emerge from months of conflict.
Last year Mali was upended by a separatist rebellion and coup that toppled the elected president and allowed al-Qaeda-linked rebels to occupy the north before being ousted by a French-led military intervention.
The flooding in Bamako is the first big challenge to face president-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita since his election on August 11, which was also marred by heavy rain in the capital and flooding in the north.