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!
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 …”
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:
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!
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.