More than 600 killed in Nigeria’s worst flooding in a decade, flood-ravaged oil town in the Niger Delta shows little sign of recovering
In August 2003, Abuja, the capital of Nigeria’s most populous state, had just emerged from a devastating civil war that had claimed the lives of almost half a million people
When the river was roaring just a mile or two away, I heard the distant thunder.
Then I heard the roaring and saw a small girl clinging to the window, screaming, ‘Oh, no!’
That night, a week I spent in the devastated city of Benin, I stayed in a hotel with water seeping through the walls, and I heard that sound many times: the screaming of those who had been swept away.
The following day, I visited the oil-producing Niger Delta, a strip of river and swamp stretching from the coast in Nigeria to the southern Indian Ocean. It is the source of two-thirds of the global oil supply.
It is like the African version of California, where giant redwoods tower over the city for centuries, before trees were destroyed by the lumber industry or by humans with the axe.
On my first day there, I saw men fighting fires in the forest, and I noticed the remains of some of the trees still floating down the river. And I saw the remains of a ship and the remains of a bridge, and I saw many animals and birds: turtles stranded by the river in the shallows, birds and crocodiles trapped and drowning, and other animals running for their lives – a scene that many Nigerians would have found familiar after the floods.
For me, on my first day in the delta, I walked the streets of Benin, and I saw some of the houses that had been washed away during the flood. And I saw the remains of some of the boats that remained on the river. And I looked at the remains of a road, and, from a window of the house I had been staying in, I saw a man and two children walking along the side of the road, carrying a large mattress on their backs.
I didn’t realise, until later, that they had been in the flood for weeks: they hadn’t seen the river coming until the next morning, when they woke up in their beds.