YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Thousands of Cameroonians are stranded after heavy rains Thursday collapsed the only road to the country's troubled Northwest Region.
Among them is 36-year-old nurse Doris Tendong with Cameroon's ministry of health.
She was traveling to the English-speaking town of Bamenda with COVID-19 test kits and treatment, and to educate people on the virus. She said more than 20 people in Bamenda died of COVID-19 within one week, and the number of health workers testing positive is increasing due to negligence and lack of knowledge.
Tendong, who was dispatched from Cameroon's capital, Yaoundé, is among thousands of people waiting for authorities to repair the road.
Officials said the damage has stopped at least 200 vehicles from getting into or out of Bamenda, the region's capital. The stranded travelers also included traders and aid workers helping people suffering from the region's separatist conflict.
Cameroon's public works minister, Emmanuel Nganou Djoumessi, said engineers have been sent to build an emergency road, and measures will be taken to prevent further damage.
He said he has ordered signposts to be erected that will prohibit vehicles for up to two hours after rainfall. Cameroonians should rest assured, he added, that peace is returning to the English-speaking western regions and the entire road will be constructed very soon.
Efforts to repair the road in 2018 were abandoned after armed men attacked workers and torched construction equipment. Work resumed in 2020, but armed men again attacked, abducting some workers, who were only freed after ransom was paid.
Cameroon authorities blamed anglophone rebels fighting to create a breakaway state from the French-speaking majority.
Separatists did not confirm or deny the attacks on construction workers but have claimed responsibility for previous attacks on buses along the road.
Authorities said the engineers sent to build an emergency road to rescue the stranded would be protected by Cameroon's military.
"The road is of capital economic importance," said Bamenda lawmaker Nestus Fru Manju. "Bamenda acts as a linkage between west Africa and central Africa because from Bamenda you have access to all of the Republic of Cameroon, which in turn has access to Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea or Central Africa (CAR). People who leave from Nigeria can freely circulate into the (Economic Community of Central African States) zone and do business."
A 443-kilometer extension of the road linking Bamenda to the Nigerian town of Enugu was completed in 2020. It is part of the Trans-African Highway conceived more than 30 years ago as a transcontinental link from Lagos, Nigeria, on the Atlantic Ocean to Mombasa, Kenya, on the Indian Ocean.