Port-Louis, a hurried post-mortem analysis of a disaster

About 10 deaths in an area of about 10 sq km. How does this happen? A story of a disaster waiting to happen? To be fair it was very hard to forsee something like that (150mm of rain in less than 4hours does not happen very often) but it had many of the ingredients for it. Am I going to sound like a smartass being wise after the event. Probably!

The Background
Port-Louis, the capital of Mauritius did not always look like it is right now. When the french came to Mauritius, they were not happy with the harbour at Mahebourg (in the south east of the island) and moved it to Port-Louis (in the north west). Lots of work had to be done (under the supervision of the then governor Bertrand Made de Labourdonnais) to transform it from the wetlands it was before to what it is now. Yes, you read correctly, wetlands! Yvan Martial has a great book on the history of Mauritius: Mauritius 500 Early Postcards for which extracts are available on Google books. One of the sentences is quite insightful:

“it only takes a few hours of heavy tropical showers for these river to burst their banks in places, especially in the East India company Gardens (Jardin de la compagnie). Port Louis occupies a low lying basin and it only needs heavy rains to coincide with high tides for mother nature to claim back what is rightfully hers …”

Let’s take a look at the relief of Port-Louis.

As you can see, it’s a basin surrounded by mountains. The elevation drops from about 800m to like 40m in about 5 km. Though you don’t see any big rivers flowing in Port-Louis. I’ve taken the liberty to highlight parts of the river I could follow on an old map:

The disaster
Now look at this map (I’ve taken it from the island crisis website) and pay attention the blue trail indicating the creek (Ruisseau du pouce). Most of the bad things (indicated by the blue thingy) happened as we approach the mouth of the river.

If you look at the photos from the island crisis website too, you will notice that lots of the flooding happened along Ruisseau du Pouce, same information from Le Defi website. It seems that the creek has turned into a major river.

I don’t know much about tides and their effects but according to Yvan Martial, it has an impact. The high tide in Mauritius on March 30th was at 3:15 pm. Does that not sound like the time of the disaster?

Given the relief of port-louis, how do we prevent a major disaster. Plan carefully. Having an underground pass in a wetland region making it lower than sea level: bad bad idea!

Having walls like that:

close to the sea: Not smart!

Add that to a population of 1.3 Million islanders stuck in 2040 sq km of land where most people don’t bother to learn to swim and are trained to fear water.  Really really not smart! Don’t forget that the sea levels are going up too!

As we’ve learned time and time again, fighting nature is often a futile endeavor  We must learn to live with it and take actions so what when it gets upset or as one of my friends would say “when the shit hits the fan”, we are prepared to deal with the consequences. The weather is changing, the sea levels are rising and more extreme weather seems to be on the rise. How do we deal with it now, especially in a place where lots of people go to (and through) that is predisposed to be flooded.

Finding a scapegoat feels nice (like sack the minister) but most people are to be blamed as much as him. He didn’t go and clogged all the drains with garbage. And what does it say about a population that will always vote for the same guys (often coz he looks like us) time and time again when he has showed no signs of doing much useful things in his previous terms. One personally gratifying thing to do is to blame or criticize others. Another more useful thing to do would be: Now that we know something like that can happen. How do we make sure it never happens again?

My condolences to the families of the victims.

9 responses to “Port-Louis, a hurried post-mortem analysis of a disaster

  1. the underground could be redesigned like an inverted glass thus trapping some air in case its flooded again…

  2. Well u mentioned smart planning smart people and smart thinking does not exist much in our public service unfortunately and you for all your smart ass theory of late well only one solution some years ago i propose a then culture minister who then referred me also to one public infrastructure minister to build a barrier on harbour front with a first guggenheim museum pn the sea bed which would help save the city from tsunami and so on sea level rising and also revamp this part with international help.of course all my hardship was laughed fooled and thrown in the bin.today as always its the poor innocent who will pay the price.by the say it is common knowledge with or without your bro Ivan’s book right up to champ de mars would sink if we got a tsunami of 6metre high wave,but who cared.god bless no worser casualties amen.

  3. While hundreds or thousands are busy pointing finger at each other, blaming him or her, this was an insightful analysis. [edited]

  4. Hurried this maybe but still well put together with supporting evidence. Thank you for your insight

  5. My disaster map (with clickable markers) has grown quite a bit over the days and I’m still looking for more publicly available content. Please feel free to embed the updated version in your blog: http://goo.gl/maps/obQHh

  6. “[…] L’une des raisons de ce drame reste l’inondation du tunnel provoquée physiquement par le débordement sur le tablier du pont sur la Nationale du flot du ruisseau du Pouce, gêné par les travaux de construction de la troisième voie de l’autoroute à cet endroit précis. 
Ceux qui ont traversé cette partie de l’autoroute hier matin, avant l’arrivée des pluies, ont dû remarquer la présence de monticules de terre au milieu du lit de la rivière et des déviations temporaires d’eau, même si le ministère de l’Infrastructure publique, du vice-Premier ministre Anil Bachoo, conteste cette thèse pour expliquer la montée du niveau d’eau sur le front de mer. Nullement l’intention de Week-End de polémiquer avec les experts et Top Consultants de la Road Development Authority dans la conjoncture. […]” ARTICLE PARU DANS WEEK-END | 31 MARCH, 2013 – 02:33

  7. The minister infrastructur + meteo director are murderer .. responsible for death.. apart from natural disater…

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