On one side of Chab Srov dike in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district, cattle and pigs graze complacently on mostly dry land.
On the other, though, waves lap just a meter below the edge of the road.
Villagers hitch boats and makeshift rafts to the porches of their houses and hop across wooden planks to get to their front doors.
A few houses are completely submerged.
The dike, which partly encircles Phnom Penh, is the city’s most important defense against rising flood waters, which officials say are threatening to inundate the city.
Phnom Penh is threatened with becoming the latest casualty of nationwide floods that some are calling the worst Cambodia has suffered in years and have claimed the lives of dozens of people across the country.
By Saturday, the Mekong is expected to rise to 11.2 meters, a level at which it may break its banks, municipal officials say.
At the dike, water from the Mekong and the Bassac rivers has fed into the nearby Chab Srov Lake, overflowing the lake’s banks and threatening to burst or overflow the dike.
City employees are working to shore up the dike’s defenses, and they patrol the area at night. If the dike floods or bursts, the patrolmen will ring a bell to warn villagers to get out of their homes.
But it’s not much consolation for 41-year-old Chinh Sath, whose house, which is on the flooded north side of the barricade, is already partly under water.
This week Chinh Sath and her three children moved out of their house into a small outhouse higher up on the banks of the dike, she said Wednesday.
They’ve moved all their valuables there—the linen, a black-and-white television and a chiming clock.
But at night, waves slap against the rickety shelter, rocking the building. Chinh Sath said she lies awake, frightened her family will be swept away.
Ma Phal, who on Wednesday was working with other villagers filling sandbags to lay along the edge of the dike, is also afraid at night.
“I always worry about the water rising while I and my children are asleep…and [washing] our home away,” the 30-year-old school teacher said.
His school has already been flooded, the water just level with the floors of the raised classrooms. Classes are meant to resume in early October after the annual vacation, but because of the water Ma Phal estimates it will take until December until the school is ready to start again.
Troeung Vannak sheltered in her house with her 72-year-old mother and six small children as a storm moved south across the dike Wednesday afternoon.
A 45-year-old widow, Troeung Vannak supports her family selling fish to villagers near the dike. She worries her mother, who is blind, isn’t up to looking after the children while she works. She is afraid the children, who play in the water, might be swept away and drowned.
Chinh Sath’s husband usually works fishing on the lake, but he’s stopped because of the floods. “I told him I was afraid he would be drowned,” she said. For the moment the family of five gets by on what she earns selling noodles at a nearby wat.
She said she has lived next to the dike for 12 years. This is the worst flooding she has seen, but her family still plans to sit it out.
“We have nowhere to go. We will just stay here until—” She broke off, covering her mouth with a hand and giggling nervously. “We cannot leave this house.”
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)