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Flood-Ravaged Ethiopia Opens Dams

August 22, 2006

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Ethiopia began releasing water from dams taxed by two weeks of heavy rain to prevent them from bursting as the death toll from devastating floods climbed, state media said Tuesday.

With forecasters predicting yet more rain in this impoverished nation, floodgates from three major dams were opened, the Ethiopian News Agency reported.

Officials said they were releasing water from the dams in the central, southern and eastern parts of the country as a precautionary measure to prevent them from overflowing or bursting and causing uncontrolled flooding, according to the report.

Flooding caused by the heavy rains has left 626 people dead and displaced about 50,000, according to officials.

Meanwhile, officials issued fresh flood alerts in southern, northern and western Ethiopia as more bodies were recovered in the south, where the Omo River burst its banks on Aug. 13.

``This is a dangerous time for everyone and we are doing our best to prevent further deaths,″ Sisay Tadesse, spokesman for the government-run Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Agency told The Associated Press.

He said 1,300 people have been rescued by boat or helicopter in the south but he did not know the number of new bodies that had been recovered by rescuers.

Meanwhile, U.S. Navy personnel began relief operations in Dire Dawa, 310 miles east of Addis Ababa, where the first flash floods ripped through the town on Aug. 6, killing 256 and leaving 300 missing and feared dead.

U.S. naval engineers, who are part of the anti-terror Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa based in neighboring Djibouti, set up tents to shelter thousands of displaced residents. Sanitation facilities have also been built.

Waterborne diseases have compounded the rescue efforts, with 150 people having died countrywide from acute diarrhea and nearly 12,000 infected, the U.N. said.

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