The toll from a tornado that swept through an area surrounding the town of Yumbi in the northwest of Bandundu Province in western Democratic Republic of the Congo on 2 February has been drastically revised, a delegation of experts reported following a visit to the area.
"There were only 17 deaths," Leonard Mashako Mamba, the health minister, told a news conference on Saturday in the capital, Kinshasa.
Preliminary reports on 5 February first estimated 40 deaths; however, health officials revised the figure upwards to 164 later that same day. Mashako said this figure had been given because officials feared that all the people reported as missing had died.
"However, many people were found alive, under the debris of their homes," he said.
Nevertheless, he added, the situation remained serious, because at least 4,000 people had been injured, and at least 1,700 families had been rendered homeless.
The delegation comprised representatives from the DRC government health sector, the UN and NGOs. Furthermore, the delegation reported that the loss of fishing boats and crops had rendered the situation "catastrophic".
The rainstorm, which occurred on 2 February at 11:00 p.m., lasted 15 minutes and also destroyed schools. The villages of Molumbu, Nkolo, Bombala, Maboka, Bongembe, Nkombe and Botamba, all within a radius of 168 km of Yumbi (located about 300 km northeast of Kinshasa), were affected by it.
Yumbi, a town with about 30,000 inhabitants near the border with Equateur Province, is isolated and difficult to access, even though it lies along the River Congo. The nearest city equipped with even basic health facilities, Lokolela, is some 100 km away.