HARBEL, Margibi – At least five bodies have been recovered from the Gbehn River after a canoe capsized with at least nine persons missing.
There were at least 15 persons on board the canoe, which was headed from Unification City to Dolo Town. Among the passengers were young footballers from the third division league of the Liberia Football Association. They were returning to Harbel after a practice session in Unification City.
A few of the passengers were also students who were taking preparation classes for the 12th grade West African Secondary School Certificate Examinations.
On Wednesday, Mayor Samuel Berrien of Unification City had told The Bush Chicken that six of the fifteen occupants in the canoe had been recovered as a massive search to rescue the others continued.
The mayor said he had ordered the immediate closure of all crossing points within the city until the dry season returned. He emphasized that those who do not adhere to the new measure will be arrested and prosecuted for endangering the lives of locals.
“We regret highly the drowning of our citizens, and the local authorities extend heartfelt condolences to relatives of those involved in such calamity,” Berrien added.
Kumbah Blamah, an elderly woman in her 70s and the only female occupant in the canoe, attributed her survival to divine intervention. She said when the canoe capsized, she was on her way to Dolo Town to attend her church’s regular Wednesday fast and prayer service.
“I really don’t know how I survived after the canoe turned over. All I remembered was seeing myself on the bank of the river holding a stick that I couldn’t leave,” she said. “When I entered the canoe, I began to pray. I did not end my prayer when the canoe turned upside down.”
Blamah was rushed to the Dolo Town Health Center as soon as she was rescued. She said she will continue to serve God because, without him, she would not have survived the incident.
Another survivor, Favor Abel Togar, told journalists that there was a foreshadowing of danger ahead when passengers experienced difficulties entering the canoe.
“I think God was showing us the danger ahead,” he said.
Togar said rescuers on shore had thrown a stick to him, which they used to pull him out of the river.
The Gbehn River separates Unification City from Dolo Town. Many students from Dolo Town use the canoe daily to get to schools in Unification City. Conversely, residents from Unification City also use the route to seek medical assistance at the Dolo Town Health Center. The health facility is just a stone’s throw from the bank of the river.
The canoe ride costs travelers L$10 (US$0.06) per trip, as opposed to the L$50 (US$0.32) charged by commercial motorcyclists.
The Navy Division of the Armed Forces of Liberia has been helping in the search to recover the bodies from the river.
Featured photo by Jefferson Daryoue