Rains Drench Several Provinces; More to Come

Heavy rains have pummeled coastal and low-lying areas of the country over the past two days, leading to flooding in Phnom Penh and a missing fisherman off the coast of Preah Sihanouk province.

The rains, which began in full force on Sunday, are expected to last through tomorrow and bear down most heavily on Kompong Speu, Pursat, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces, according to an announcement issued yesterday by the Ministry of Water Resources. The ministry said the severe weather was due to an area of low pressure caused by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a band of shifting clouds and storms along the equator where trade winds converge.

The heavy rains came less than a week after parts of central Vietnam were inundated with torrential rain and flash floods that killed dozens.

Oy Samhath, director of Cambodia Red Cross’ disaster management department, said he was “standing by” for any reports of serious flooding requiring disaster relief.

In Preah Sihanouk, police said yesterday that several boats had been sunk in the rain, with one fisherman still missing off the coast and at six Cambodian tourists briefly missing after their boat went down near Koh Russei island.

In Sophal, a fisherman in his mid-20s, went missing Sunday after a boat he was a crew member of sunk, according to provincial police chief Tak Vantha.

“At about 12 pm [Sunday], a fishing boat sunk near Koh Russei,” said Mr Vantha. “We have rescued three, but one went missing.” Police are still searching for Mr Sophal, he said.

The police chief said three other fishing boats also sank Sunday due to heavy rain and wind, but all their crew members were rescued.

Som Chinda, director of the Preah Sihanouk tourism department, said the tourists missing near Koh Russei had all been found and returned to shore yesterday morning.

Oum Ryna, deputy director of the meteorology department at the Ministry of Water Resources, said yesterday that about 70 cm of rain fell on Phnom Penh on Sunday.

Street 63 in the city’s Chamkar Mon district and Streets 13 and 19 in Daun Penh district were beneath nearly a half meter of water at times yesterday and Sunday, said Nouv Saroeun, director of the drainage and sewage unit at the municipal public works department.

However, he maintained the flooding was not due to problems with the city’s recently revamped, multimillion-dollar drainage system.

“There was no struggling of the drainage system,” he said. “It needs two to three hours for rainwater to subside from the roads,” he said. “The deep areas were only at Street 63 in the Boeng Keng Kang areas and Streets 13 and 19 in the Phsar Kandal area. Those areas are the lowest and an intersection of drainage, so water flows the slowest.

He added that only Daun Penh, Chamkar Mon, Prampi Makara and Tuol Kork districts were currently covered by the drainage system, and that continued flooding in Meanchey, Russei Keo, Dangkao and Sen Sok districts was expected over the next few days.

However, Mr Saroeun did blame some of the flooding on loose trash clogging the drainage system, echoing remarks made by Prime Minister Hun Sen last month.

In mid-September, Mr Hun Sen asked Phnom Penh residents to better control garbage so waste wouldn’t interfere with the drainage system, which underwent a roughly $20 million renovation between October 2007 and February.

“Trash is the majority of the problem,” Mr Saroeun said yesterday. “Generally, people keep the trash along roads, and when the rains come, it flows into the drainage system and blocks water flow.”

Residents of the city’s Boeng Kak lake area have experienced unprecedented water levels in and around their homes over the past two days, with an extra half-meter of water covering their already flooded villages, a villager representative said yesterday. Boeng Kak residents have blamed private developer Shukaku Inc, which is pumping the lake full of sand, for the continued flooding.

“During these two days of rain storms, villagers have had no place to use the toilet or to sleep,” Ly Mom said. “No government officers have come to help us. Now, all seven villages are almost under water. It is due to the rain and the ongoing pumping of sand.”

Ms Mom said Boeng Kak villagers would hold a news conference today asking for the government to offer emergency assistance.

Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema could not be reached yesterday. Deputy governor Pa Socheatvong said he was too busy to comment.

Pursat provincial governor Koy Sokha said yesterday that his province is receiving rain, but at a slower clip than during last year’s Typhoon Ketsana.

“We are monitoring the rain…. We have prepared our systems already after experience from the typhoon that hit last year,” he said.

Sann Det, a 49-year-old fisherman in Kampot province’s Chhuk district, said that fishermen were frightened and anxious to go out to sea because of the heavy winds and large number of capsized boats.

“Within these two days, there was no one who dared to come out for fishing,” said Mr Det. “This is the biggest rain storm I have ever seen.”


(Additional reporting by Drew Foster)



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