A video grab taken from AFP Tv footage shows locals carrying out excavation work following landslides which led to the death of at least 42 people in the western Cameroon city of Bafoussam on October 29, 2019. - The disaster was caused by torrential rains that have fallen in the country over the past few days as well as the wider region, with neighbouring Central African Republic and Nigeria also seriously hit. (Photo by AFPTV / AFP)
Recalling the horrific and sudden deaths of his mother, his brother and his friend, Claude Michel Fotso looks devastated and terrified. “My mother was everything to me,” he says.
Dayo Marthe Brigett died on Sunday, 27 November in a landslide along with Fotso’s brother and his best friend, whose names he did not share. The disaster occurred a stone’s throw from the family home in Rond Point Damas, a neighbourhood in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
On the eve of the disaster, Fotso and his friend were at his mother’s small wooden house. She had made his favourite meal: corn fufu, okra and smoked fish. Little did Fotso know that this would be the last time he would eat from his mother’s pot.
On that Sunday, the three of them joined his brother and hundreds of others for a funeral ceremony held on a local soccer pitch, at the base of a 20m embankment. “I arrived at 3.30pm and the ceremony started at about 4pm. About an hour later, I heard a strange noise. Then I saw a wall of ground collapsing towards me,” Fotso says.
The embankment had collapsed.
“I tried to escape but I was caught,” he says. “It buried part of my body.”
His mother, his brother, his friend and a neighbour had been buried completely. Well into the dark of Sunday night, workers of the Cameroon Red Cross and officers of the army’s rescue unit and ordinary people were digging into the rubble to rescue victims.
Many of the bodies that were unearthed had been disfigured. According to the governor of the Centre region, Naseri Paul Bea, 14 people died in the tragedy and more than 10 were injured.
While visiting the site of the tragedy, the governor of the central region said the area was a dangerous zone to live in. Places such as Damas, which are designated as risk zones for being prone to landslides and flooding, are not hard to find in Yaoundé or other parts of the country.
People who continue to live and build in these areas, despite government calls to the contrary, say they have nowhere else to go. Some of them have lived in such places for decades.
The Yaoundé landslide is not the first to claim lives. In 2019, at least 42 people were reported to have died in a landslide in Bamougoum near Bafoussam, in the western region of the country. The year before, five people were killed in a landslide in Limbé, in the southwestern region, following a heavy downpour.
Three days after the tragedy in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s minister for territorial administration, Paul Atanga Nji, issued a communiqué saying that President Paul Biya had ordered an investigation into the cause of the landslide that had killed Fotso’s friend and his family.
Fotso, who has been struggling to walk since he was trapped in the landslide, is starting to recover physically. He missed his best friend’s funeral because he was too weak to go but is now preparing to bury his family members.
“Life without them will be hard,” he says.
“My mother was the most important woman in my life.” Living so close to the site constantly triggers flashes of the incident in his head. “It is difficult to overcome it since we haven’t even laid my family to rest.”