Death, destruction in Hanang deluge

Residents of Katesh in Hanang District, Manyara Region, assess the damage after the town and nearby villages were swamped by flash floods that left at least 20 people dead on December3, 2023.  .  PHOTO | CORRESPONDENT

What you need to know:

  • At least 20 people were confirmed dead yesterday in Hanang District after Katesh Town and nearby villages were swamped by floodwaters and mud that came hurtling down a mountainside following an overnight downpour

Arusha. It was a never-seen calamity on the normally restive but highly populated slopes of Mt Hanang.

Residents of Katesh, the largest township, woke up to a rude shock yesterday to find the entire town under siege from the raging waters.

Water gushing from the mountain after an all-night downpour rudely swept downstream people, livestock, buildings and other properties.

Other deaths had been reported at Gendabi village some 20 km away on the western side of the towering mountain.

The death toll at Gendabi was initially feared could be much higher following reports that a church building caved in as the believers were inside.

However, this was discounted later by a church leader in the area Rev Elibariki Gayewi of the Lutheran Church who said he was not aware of this.

But as the Hanang authorities continue to come to terms with the calamity, unconfirmed reports pointed to the fact that over 35 people may have been killed in the raging water while scores had been hospitalized at Katesh hospital alone.

However, the district commissioner Janeth Mayanja told reporters that so far 20 dead bodies have been found.

By the time The Citizen went to bed, members of the safety and security committee for Manyara Region were still in meetings over the matter.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who is currently attending the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai said she had received the information with great shock.

“Those of us who are attending the Climate Conference have been saddened by the incident. We send our condolences to those affected by the accident,” said President Hassan, adding that she has ordered that all government efforts be directed towards rescuing people and prevent further calamities.

She said she was also returning home to join her lieutenants in dealing with the catastrophe.

According to Ms Mayanja, large volumes of water from the mountain could have been caused by landslides after days of rain.

“Strong currents of water from upstream came with all manner of debris like rocks and logs,” she said.

However, residents in the affected areas hinted at the likelihood of a volcanic eruption for the manner the calamity happened.

“There is every indication of an explosion. This may have accelerated bursting of water from the aquifers,” said Alfred Shahanga, a resident of Jarodom village.

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The village is located on the margins of Mt Hanang’s forest reserve, the source of numerous water streams that feed Katesh town and other hamlets.

However, the volcanic narrative could not be supported as no geomorphological experts could be reached out to comment on this.

The 3,420 metre high Hanang, the fourth highest in Tanzania, is a dormant volcano that is quiet but might erupt again in the future.

Mr Shahanga said at least 18 houses from the Jarodom hamlet alone had been swept downstream by the raging waters.

“Some six bodies were retrieved from the mud and debries,” he told The Citizen on phone from the area.

The raging waters also swept away structures, including shops, in the town’s market and main bus stand.

Pius Daniel Mwashagalla, another resident of the area, said he had not seen or heard of the calamity of such magnitude.

“Katesh town has been reduced to a disaster zone. Water and mud is everywhere and rescue teams are looking for people who cannot be accounted for,” he said.

These, he said, include some of his neighbours, noting that some households who had lost several members of the family.

Stephen Gidamarirrd, an employee of the Hanang District Council said rescue work has been boosted by teams from Babati, the regional headquarters.

People rendered homeless were being assembled at the schools but said it may take days before the situation returns to normal.

He and other residents of area keep on guessing as what could have led to the calamity given that Hanang had not been subjected to heavier-than normal rains.

“We have not seen anything like this. Some people are stuck in mud. Vehicles are among the properties swept away,” he explained.