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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 March 2007, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
UN warns of new Gaza sewage flood
The village of Umm al-Naser. Photo: 27 March 2007
A number of houses were damaged by the flood
The UN has warned that there could be another cesspool collapse in the Gaza Strip, a day after at least five people were killed by a flood of raw sewage.

Three women and two toddlers died after a sewage treatment pool broke down in the northern village of Umm al-Naser.

Rescue teams are continuing their search for more bodies.

On Wednesday, the head of the UN relief and works agency in Gaza said a larger cesspool in the area was overloaded and could collapse at any time.

In a separate development, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a car of a local Hamas commander in Gaza City, witnesses and medics said.

They said the commander's wife and their two children were injured. It remains unclear if the commander himself was hurt.

'Bigger disaster'

"The real threat now comes from another [sewage] facility up there which is equally overloaded," John Ging, the head of the UN relief and works agency in Gaza, told the Associated Press news agency.

This has been a tragedy that was predicted and documented
John Ging
UN relief and works agency

"Except that this time it's 1.5 million cubic metres of waste water and sewage that could spill out into the area and cause an even bigger disaster," he said.

Mr Ging added that the UN had long warned that Tuesday's disaster would happen.

"This has been a tragedy that was predicted and documented. The United Nations published a report in 2004, predicting that unless action were taken, that exactly what happened yesterday would happen."

The report said that flooding was inevitable unless a new waste treatment plant was constructed.

'We lost everything'

Rescuers in Umm al-Naser are still continuing to search for more bodies and trying to clear away the sewage.

Gaza Strip

On Wednesday, Israel sent two large floating pumps to help Palestinian emergency workers lower the level of sewage in the flooded area, an Israeli army spokesman said.

The UN says their job has been made more difficult by unexploded Israeli ordnance, which was fired into the area last year and could have now been spread by the floodwaters.

Some 25 people were reported injured in Tuesday's disaster.

Hundreds have been made homeless by the flood, which some residents described as a sewage "tsunami".

One villager, Amina Afif, said: "We lost everything, everything was covered by the flood. It's a disaster."

At least 25 houses were submerged and many more damaged in the village with a population of about 3,000.

Blame game

On Tuesday, Fadel Kawash, head of the Palestinian Water Authority, told AP several sewage projects, including one in the village, had been halted after international funding dried up in the wake of the election victory of Hamas in January last year.

Hamas also blamed the flood on the withdrawal of foreign aid.

But Stuart Shepherd, the UN's humanitarian aid officer in Gaza, said the Umm al-Naser plant had not been affected by the aid boycott, noting there had long been warnings about the plant.

Mr Shepherd said foreign investment had been secured to build the treatment plant, but construction had not gone ahead because of security risks in the area.

The facility, built in the 1970s to serve a population of 50,000, was serving 190,000 people by 2004, according to the UN.

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