LAGOS, Nigeria – Rescue workers dispensed water purification tablets Monday to crowds of people whose homes were washed away after a dam collapsed in northern Nigeria, as surveyors worked to determine what caused the disaster.
An emergency official said Monday that no one died in the weekend collapse, contradicting earlier reports from police and witnesses.
The Gusau dam in the north of the West African country collapsed Saturday after heavy rains. The torrent of water released washed away hundreds of homes and witnesses said entire families were pulled into the rushing flood.
The government has contracted a construction firm to survey the damage and try to determine why the structure collapsed.
Photos of the scene showed jagged chunks of concrete torn from the dam walls lying in pools of water. Women in brightly colored head scarves huddled in overcrowded camps set up for the displaced while Red Cross officials set up tables to dispense sanitation equipment.
On Sunday, police confirmed three deaths and a witness interviewed by The Associated Press said he saw seven dead bodies in the water.
However, Ibrahim Farinloye, a spokesman for the government's emergency management agency, said only two people were reported missing and they were rescued. The agency has 20 rescue workers in the area, working alongside Red Cross and state personnel.
"I assure you, nobody died in that flood. I am speaking on behalf of the federal government," Farinloye said. He said 1,500 homes were destroyed in the flood, but that no bodies had been found.
Farinloye said about 700 people were in the camps, but that others may have gone to stay with relatives.
Police could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. Farinloye said state police had issued contradictory statements and had no authority to speak on disasters.
Asked about the witness reports, Farinloye said: "It is often difficult for an untrained person in the middle of an emergency to tell exactly what they are seeing." The resident who saw the bodies could not be reached again Monday.
Initial state media reports had said 40 people were feared dead.
Saturday's flood in Zamfara state follows continued heavy flooding in neighboring Sokoto state, tied to weakness in another dam.
Dahiru Yusuf Yabo, the head of the Sokoto state water board, said coursing water destroyed hundreds of houses and polluted drinking water there, explaining that a dam failed to release floodwaters because sediment had built up in its outlets. He said the government was dispatching water treatment kits to prevent a disease outbreak.
Though Nigeria is rich in oil, government corruption and poor distribution of wealth have left its infrastructure and health service in ruins.