June 3, 2015 is a day etched into the memory of Ghanaians. It is a day that floods swept through Accra in hours, claiming more than 200 lives, gutting buildings, destroying cars and setting off a devastating explosion at a petrol station.
Similar to the previous days, it started raining at dawn. On this particular day, I remember stepping out of my flat and saw rainfall heavier than usual. I rushed to the car ready to face the day with my designated driver, my manager. We were running late for our meetings and decided on a route that would save time, the Kwame Nkrumah Circle. The already eroded roads had started forming pools and the rain made it impossible to see clearly. Through my impaired vision, I could see the heavy wind blow billboards over and informal traders scurry to nearby shelters to escape the incessant thrashing of the downfall.
The police officers who normally stood on the roadside to do the job of the faulty traffic lights had chosen to neglect their post. This created a massive jam.
As we battled through the sluggish traffic, chaos erupted and a mass of people ran towards us in panic. Amid the confusion, we decided to follow suit and turn the car around but the congestion made it impossible. Up ahead, I saw cars floating in the murky water that was overflowing from the poorly built drainage systems. Across the road, a woman running towards shelter with her baby, lost her footing in the thigh-high water and disappeared. Two men dived in to try and save them.
Panic set in and I realized all the cars around us had suddenly become floatation devices. We decided to make a dash for it but the doors were jammed. My manager was yelling for help but gave up. As the cold water rushed in the car, my manager frantically tried to break the window. Our fear rose with the water.
On my left, I saw two women vanish under the water as they were hit by a floating car. I thought to myself, “this is it Peace, get ready to die.” As the water reached waist level, the welcome sound of shattering glass came. Three young men had smashed the back window and were yelling for us to climb out. The air was heavy with trepidation. People on the rooftops were screaming out directions to people on the street turned rescuers. We dragged our feet through the gushing water and howling wind to reach safety. Some were standing on the roofs of their cars, trying to use them as lifeboats.
As we continued moving away from the car, I lost my footing, on what was once a sturdy pavement, into what felt like a bottomless pit. I had dropped into an open gutter and felt a sharp pain in my back. The brown water turned red as everything faded to black.
I woke up in a hospital bed. My manager, who helped save me, told me that I fell in a ditch, was suspended by barbed wire and impaled by a floating car part. A couple of stitches, several staples and two blood transfusions later, I am lucky to be able to recount the event.
The next day, a stone’s throw from where we almost died, many others did. A petrol station was engulfed in flames following an explosion. It is thought that petrol seeped into the flood water and was ignited by a spark from a generator. It resulted in the deaths of more than 200 people sheltering from torrential rain. I wondered if it had been any of the women I saw the day before, the women who believed they had made it to safety.
I will never forget these days. I know how close I came to joining the hundreds that lost their lives. I am both angry and sad. I’m angry because there is no reason that proper drainage systems could not have been built in an area which has a history of flooding. I’m sad because I know the problem will not be solved soon.
I am also proud to be a Ghanaian. I witnessed heroism from strangers who risked their lives to save people they did not know. I saw a community pull together to fight for the most fundamental human right, the right to life. The media might forget these tragedies, I won’t. To those unsung heroes, Ghana is forever indebted to you.