BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The torrential rains started to fall when Ichaka Sacko was still at work, selling clothes at a bustling market in Mali’s capital. He rushed home early, feeling ill at ease.
Before he even reached his door, a neighbor stopped him with the devastating news: His wife and children — ages 4, 6, 8 and 10 — were nowhere to be found.
“Water had gotten into the house, so my wife was taking them outside — one on her back, another in her arms and the two others following closely behind,” he said. “But at the door, the children behind her were swept away by floodwaters into the street.”
On Thursday, he stood at the entrance to the morgue where their bodies were.
“I have lost everything — my wife and my four children. Even my house,” the 40-year-old said as tears welled up in his eyes.
Scores of panicked relatives are crowding morgues in Mali’s capital. A government statement read on state television confirmed 24 deaths after Wednesday’s storm, though private newspapers were reporting more than 50 killed.
Brehima Dembele, a guard at a morgue in the Korofina neighborhood, said that 20 bodies had been brought there, most of them children. Another four victims had been taken to a nearby hospital.
Few Malians know how to swim in this land-locked African country. Many of the victims lived in mud-walled homes that had collapsed as the floodwaters encroached, while others who died lived in parts of the capital where water drainage systems are non-existent despite an annual rainy season.
Most of Bamako’s rutted red dirt roads are best traveled on motorcycle, and lay in disrepair after a tumultuous year that included a rebellion in the north, a coup and a transitional government that struggled to combat an Islamic insurgency. The capital had a population of 1.8 million people even before hundreds of thousands of Malians fled the north for the relative safety and economic promise of the capital.
On Thursday, 15 bodies lay inside the morgue at Korofina’s small health center — some wrapped in black plastic bags, others covered with sheets. Fatoumata Djire, 50, came with her cousins in search of her father.
She immediately found his body in the first room beside those of several drowned children. Tears rolled down her face as she quickly began saying the Muslim prayers offered to the dead and left the room.
“My father was in the house when it started to fill up with water. The young people in the neighborhood tried to pull him out with a rope but the current was very strong and the water just kept rising,” she said stoically.
He climbed on top of a small wall and awaited help but the rescue never came. Water broke down the wall that was made of mud and he was swept away.
“I am full of sorrow because I was his favorite daughter and he did everything for me,” she said.
For most families, the water simply came too fast to rescue everyone. Aliou Mariko, 48, climbed onto the top of the house and tried to use a metal beam to rescue the children stranded inside his home.
“There were many children inside, include those of my brother and sister,” he said. “I managed to get the first five outside but by the time I got to my mother’s room the water was already all over the house. My mother had climbed on to the bed so as not to drown but three of the children with her were dead.”
Among those who did not make it was Mariko’s 5-year-old son.
“I did what I always do — putting out sand bags in front of our door and the water never gets inside,” he said with his eyes red from sobbing. “But yesterday, it did nothing.”
Follow Baba Ahmed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Baba_A— .