Heavy rain and swollen rivers roaring down from the mountains in neighboring Ethiopia hampered international efforts Thursday to rescue Somalis trapped by nearly a month of flooding.
At least 72 more people drowned in the flooded Juba Valley Thursday, bringing the death toll to 520 since rains began Oct. 5, Wendy Driscoll of CARE International said. Aid workers feared the number of dead could be much higher.
In villages south of Baidoa, the situation was so bad that some residents climbed to the tops of trees to escape the flood waters - and have been stuck there for nearly a week, aid workers said.
Stockpiled food and emergency supplies have been threatened by rising waters, airfields have been flooded and bridges washed away. Relief workers have reported an outbreak of disease among livestock in Badhade, where at least 11,000 head of cattle have died.
In some places, land mines planted during Somalia’s six-year civil conflict have risen to the surface, posing yet another hazard.
The Juba River Valley, 250 miles southwest of Mogadishu, is the breadbasket of Somalia. Floods have destroyed most of the harvested reserves and freshly planted sorghum, a staple grain crop.
The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have started flying in medicine, blankets and plastic boats to the three airstrips still above water.
The European Union said Thursday it was allocating $2.5 million to the Somali operation, and the United Nations is negotiating with France and Germany to get helicopters for an evacuation operation.