Sewage Flood Kills 4

Tuesday, March 27th 2007, 8:14 am
By: News On 6

UMM NASER, Gaza Strip (AP) _ An earth embankment around a cesspool collapsed Tuesday, spewing a river of sewage and mud that killed four people and forced residents to flee from this village in the northern Gaza Strip, officials said.

A local official blamed shoddy infrastructure in Umm Naser, a town of 3,000.

A 70-year-old woman, two small children and a teenager died in the sudden flood, and 25 people were injured, said Dr. Muawiya Hassanin of the Palestinian Health Ministry. Many of the village's houses were submerged or seriously damaged.

Fadel Kawash, head of the Palestinian Water Authority, said the level of sewage in the pool had increased over the past few days, creeping up the earth embankments around the pool until one collapsed, ``causing the sewage to pour toward the village.''

Ziad Abu Farya, head of the village council, described the scene as ``our tsunami.''

Rescue crews and gunmen from the militant Muslim group Hamas rushed to the area to search for people feared buried under the slide of sewage and mud. Most residents fled or were evacuated. Three children left on a cart pulled by a donkey, heading toward the nearby town of Beit Lahiya.

Angry residents drove reporters out of the area and mobbed government officials who arrived at the scene. When Interior Minister Hani Kawasmeh arrived to survey the damage, his bodyguards fired in the air to disperse the crowd.

``We lost everything. Everything was covered by the flood. It's a disaster,'' said Amina Afif, 65, whose small shack was destroyed.

The Water Authority's Kawash said Gaza's poor infrastructure was to blame for the accident.

Several major sewage treatment projects funded by foreign donors, including one near Umm Naser, were frozen after Hamas won elections last year. The U.S. and EU consider Hamas a terrorist group.

``We had a project to treat sewage in north Gaza, it was worked on for two years,'' Kawash said. ``We built a pressure pipe line and pumping station,'' he added. ``But it was stopped after ... troubles began.''

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blamed the ``sanctions against Palestinians, including Gaza and the West Bank'' for the condition of Gaza's infrastructure.

The Israeli army offered humanitarian assistance to help clean up the spill. There was no word on whether the offer had been accepted.