Flood of sewage in Gaza Strip village kills at least five people
Gunmen fire at PA cabinet minister who arrived to inspect damage after raw sewage erupted from treatment pool.
An earth embankment around a sewage reservoir collapsed Tuesday, spewing a river of waste and mud that killed at least five people and forced residents to flee from a village in the northern Gaza Strip, officials said.
A local Palestinian official blamed the disaster on shoddy infrastructure and United Nations officials said they had been warning of a catastrophe for more than two years.
Two women in their 70s, two toddlers and a teenage girl died in the sudden flood, and 25 people were injured, said Dr. Muawiya Hassanin of the Palestinian Health Ministry. At least 25 houses were completely submerged.
Palestinian emergency workers poled between the houses on flat-bottomed boats and chickens fled their coops to perch high on power lines.
Fadel Kawash, head of the Palestinian Water Authority, said that 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 a "Palestinian tsunami."
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.
A 2004 United Nations report warned that the sewage facility was at its maximum capacity and flooding was inevitable unless a new waste treatment plant was constructed. It said that even without overflowing, the effluent lake posed a serious health hazard, providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes and waterborne diseases.
Stuart Shepard, of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the wave of waste released Tuesday sent the health risks even higher.
"It is an extremely serious situation," he said.
Shepard said that since the report was published, international funding for a new plant had been secured but construction had not been able to go ahead because of the high security risks in the area. Palestinian militants routinely fire rockets at Israel from the dunes near the plant and Israel responds with artillery fire.
Umm Naser is about 300 meters from the border with Israel, in an area where Palestinians have frequently launched rockets into Israel and Israeli artillery and aircraft have fired back.
The Israel Defense Forces offered humanitarian assistance to help clean up the spill. There was no word on whether the offer had been accepted.