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Heads above water

Children swim with the aid of fallen bamboo plants in water that flooded many areas of Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district
Children swim with the aid of fallen bamboo plants in water that flooded many areas of Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. VIREAK MAI

Heads above water

Though authorities have called on residents to move to higher ground, those in some of the worst flooded areas of Cambodia said yesterday that they had neither the means nor the ability to do so. Instead, they said, they will remain in their rapidly flooding homes and hope the level remains manageable.

Several Kandal families have sought refuge for their cows, erecting makeshift bamboo stables along the national highway, but in the evening, many of the residents opt to wade their way back through chest-high water to their homes.

“We bring the cows here every year during the floods and live like this,” said Chum Symon, a 31-year-old resident of Kandal’s Phoum Thom commune whose house is filled with half a metre of water.

Chum, who is six months' pregnant, worries about the safety of sleeping on pallets on the side of the highway. Snakes have been found in the surrounding grass, and there is no access to toilets or running water after the adjacent pagoda closes for the night. Every night, she and her eight-year-old son take a boat back through the flooded streets to sleep in their submerged home.

“I am afraid because we don’t want to get robbed,” she said.

The flood has already claimed 41 lives, and 14 of 24 provinces in the country have been affected, according to Keo Vy, spokesman for the National Committee for Disaster Management. Across the country, 30,442 houses and 32,577 hectares of rice paddy have been submerged.

“The residents have to be careful about their safety during the flood, and the local authorities will help them evacuate,” he said

But despite promises from authorities and requests last week from Prime Minister Hun Sen to step up the emergency response, residents say there’s little incentive to evacuate to areas suffering a shortage of ready supplies or access to clean water.

“So far, authorities just allow people to find a safe place from the flood, but they’re not telling people how to support themselves and feed their families,” said Ros Kong, 57, an evacuated Kandal province resident.

“We need supplies.… The most important thing we need right now is food.”

With the flooding not yet over and more water expected through Tuesday from tropical storm Wutip, evacuee sites are expected to see further demand to share what little supplies and space there is.

In Kandal, flooding from both the lower Mekong and the Tonle Bassac has inundated neighbourhoods with water.

The lower Mekong Neak Luong water station clocked 7.59 metres today, or just above the emergency level, while the Koh Khel water station on the Tonle Bassac river reached 7.78 metres, or emergency level, according to a weather and flood situation report from the Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology.

In Kien Svay district’s Phoum Thom commune alone, 1,534 houses and 121.5 hectares of agriculture were flooded in the past two weeks.

In Phnom Penh, meanwhile, 160 families living along the riverbank in Meanchey district were evacuated this weekend, according to City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche.

Today, the river reached 10.25 metres at the Chaktomuk station, hovering just below the emergency 10.50-metre level.

Dimanche added that emergency preparations are already under way in the capital, with boats ready to evacuate people and plans build a dam to protect people in the flooded areas if necessary.

“We are ready to prepare everything to protect people in the city from the flood and to evacuate people to safe places,” he said.

But even as the water creeps higher, many residents are adamant they’ll stay in their homes.

“Even if it gets worse, we have decided to stay in our home,” said Chheng Da, 26, who added that all her relatives live along the same waterlogged block in Phoum Thom commune.

“We will wait for the water to go down, [because] we have nowhere else to live.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEN DAVID

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