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Flooding Kills Hundreds in Ethiopia

Flood waters around Ethiopia's Omo river have killed more than 300 people and stranded thousands of others. Unusually heavy rains have led to severe flooding across the Horn of Africa country.

Chief Inspector of Police for the affected Omo region, Tsegay Muluneh speaking from the town of Jinka, 780 kilometers south of the capital Addis Ababa, told reporters Ethiopia needs international assistance. He said authorities are struggling to cope with the scale of the disaster.

Since the river Omo topped its banks Sunday, surging flood waters have submerged 14 villages, destroying homes, roads, and carrying off thousands of head of livestock. Muluneh says rescue boats have been dispatched in a frantic effort to deliver food, medicine, temporary shelters and to pickup 20,000 survivors, marooned by the flood.

Fears are rising that if survivors are not reached soon they may be at risk of outbreaks or waterborne diseases like cholera.

World Food Program spokesman Paulet Jones, speaking to VOA from Addis Ababa, says although floods are common in the lowlands of Ethiopia in the rainy season from June to September, a combination of factors has made flooding this year far worse than usual.

"What has been unusual is the intensity and the extent of the rain," she said. "The devastation is also being caused by the fact that the rivers become silted up because of soil erosion. Soil is running off the land and into the rivers. The rivers are prone to over flooding much more quickly and much more readily than they would a couple years ago."

Jones says that aid agencies are expecting the number of casualties to rise.

"Assistance has been hampered by bad weather in the area and the fact that the area is very large and the infrastructure is quite poor," continued Jones. "So we do not have a channel of good roads in which to transport our food, but nonetheless the food is their and it ready to be delivered as soon as we it has been requested by the government."

The World Food Program is already supplying relief to flood victims in the region of Dire Dawa in the east of the country, where as many as 250 people were killed and 10,000 were made homeless by flash flooding last week.

Floods have also plagued the far north in the Tekezie region along the banks of the Tigray river.

Heavy rains are forecast across Ethiopia in coming days.