In all, three themes were generated. These include experiences during disaster, psychological impacts and adjustment factors (see Fig. 1). Each of these themes have subthemes that are presented below with corresponding quotes. The themes were carefully named to reflect the information provided by participants and also to satisfy the research questions to be answered by the study.
Perceived cause of disaster
This subtheme examines the impression participants had about the cause of the disaster. This was important to explore as perceived cause of misfortune influences how people adjust. Participants who happen to be at the point of the disaster had their own beliefs about what might have resulted in the disaster. From the narratives, it was noted that participants attributed the disaster to inappropriate town planning and constructions and human behaviours. Therefore, two subthemes emerged under this theme namely engineering failures and anti-environmental behaviours.
Engineering failures: This subtheme describes the cause of the disaster participants attributed to construction or engineering problems. At the time of the disaster, the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Interchange was under construction. Probably, during the construction, drainages were temporarily blocked either deliberately or not deliberately by construction works. Participants indicated that this might have resulted in the flooding. For example, one participant stated that “…the road was under construction so trip of sand covered the roads, gutters so the rain came with force and did not get a place to pass. It entered the tank and uncover the top and the fuel came out” (Participant 2, Female, 44years).
Another participant whose residence is not within the construction zone but was still flooded supported the idea that engineering failures might account for the disaster. This is because construction works in her vicinity was done several years before the disaster. She states that “…when they were constructing the N1 high way, there was this big gutter even though at first it gets flooded but it was just around the edges, not major flooding. But immediately they constructed that N1 they blocked that gutter… the new gutter that they were constructing was left half way. They didn’t do the rest” (Participant 1, Female, 33years)
Some participants also attributed the fire to poor maintenance at the fuel filling station. Some of them said the following:
“…what I know is that, first we share wall with the filling station, anytime it rains they use rubber to cover their machines because of leakage. When it rains the petrol leaks” (Participant 2).
“…my house shares a wall with the filling station. From 5pm the rain was getting heavier, thus it entered our house to the level of our neck. You could smell petrol in the water, but since we had 2 vehicles in the yard, I assumed it was from their burst fuel tanks. However, the smell of fuel was so much that you’ll have to cover your nose before you could enter my room. I then realised it was from the filling station and not our vehicles. The smell of fuel was also on me” (Participant 4)
Anti-environmental behaviours: This is about negative human behaviours that might have resulted in the floods and related disasters. Participants attributed the disaster to these behaviours by indicating that people indiscriminately dispose refuse into the drains. The refuse chokes the drains and prevent the free flow of running water whenever it rains. This diverts the water into homes and causes flooding. They also stated that some households do not have toilet facilities and so dispose their faecal matter into the drains. One of the participants admonished Ghanaian by saying ‘…Ghanaians must learn to protect our own environment’ (Participant 9, male, 42years).
These are some of the responses participants gave about this:
“…We have a big gutter but you see people throwing rubbish and defecating into it especially in the morning. So, all these things contributed to the flood” (Participant 1, Female, 36years)
“…some from dispose their refuse into the gutters. ... Those who do not have toilets … even throw their faecal matters into the gutters (Participant 5, male, 37Years).
Experiences following disaster
This theme describes the impact of the experiences of the participants. These include experiences both during and after the disaster. Participants experienced physical and psychological impacts and these are captured under subthemes known as biographical disruption and psychological impacts.
Loss and biographical disruption: This theme describes the loss of lives and the physical or bodily disfigurement or alterations caused by the disaster to participants. Those who were affected by the fire had some various degrees of burns. This leaves them with some physical deformities that affect their daily activities. Some lost their close relations such as children, and parents. For example, one participant stated that
“…Look at me body. Now I always have to wear long sleeves and a cap to cover myself. People fear how I look now. Look at my picture [participant pulls out a picture of himself before the disasters and he looks really different]. Now look at me. The difference. Hmmm”. (Participant 8, male, 47 years).
He also indicated that due to his current appearance he has only limited places to go to because people will laugh at him. For example, he said; “…when my children say their parents should come to PTA (Parent-Teacher Association), I can’t go again because their friends will laugh at them.” (Participant 8, male, 47 years).
Other participants who were also burnt in the disaster stated how they are disfigured as follows;
“…I was also burnt. It wasn’t a small issue, from my head to toe, every part of my body burnt… I look old at once” (Participant 3, female, 38years).
“…I also feel bad about my skin now. I am not married and now see my skin. I feel shy.” (Participant 12, male, 32years)
Another participant indicated that even though she was not burnt, when jumped from a storey building in an attempt to escape the fire and this got her paralysed after a couple of weeks. She stated the following;
“…It was after say around 2 weeks then I could see that when I am walking, my legs wobbles. So, I didn’t know anything about spine something. So, one morning when we woke up, we swept the area, and I sat down, I wanted to get up, but I couldn’t get up… It has disabled me, it cost me my ability to work.” (Participant 6, female, 63years).
This participant also indicated that her current state has rendered her unable to work since she is not able to walk and move about because she suffered a spinal damage from the disaster;
“…I am not able to work… I cannot walk anymore. I have been stuck here since. … I can say it is Jehovah GOD that has sustained us.” (Participant 6, female, 63years).
Participants also suffered the loss of their loved ones such as relatives and friends. Some loss their relations or friends through the fire and others through the flood. Some participants said the following;
“…My elder sister who was 58 years died… because of the fire. She was not at the top, she was downstairs. And my senior brother whose 18 years girl was also at the down also lost her life” (Participant 2, female, 44years).
“…I have no family members left. The fire killed all of them” (Participant 5, male, 37years).
Some lost their marital partners and were confronted with the difficulty of breaking the news of the death to the children;
“…Finally, I gathered the courage to go to Circle. She was not there too. My brother, it was on the 7th day that I found my wife’s body at the mortuary at 37 hospital ooo. I couldn’t cry. I was trying to be strong for my children. We have two children. They were always asking where their mother was. I was just hoping to see her at least alive in the hospital and tell them something but finally I have to go and break the news to them” (Participant 9).
Participants also lost their properties in the disaster. Some lost their homes, clothing, cars, and shops and other belongings. For some, it was all their live time possession that they have lost. Due to this, some participants find it difficult to resettle. Some sleep outside because they are unable to raise funds to rent accommodation. Some who were previously importers are now selling sachet water.
Some participants who lost properties said;
“…We lost everything. We didn’t pick anything from that house. But you know people even came and robbed the few things that remained” (Participant 1, female, 36years).
“…I lost all my possessions. My electronic devices, wardrobe, the building even had cracks” (Participant 5, male, 37years).
“…Well, we lost a lot of material things. Our clothes, cars and many things” (Participant 12, male, 32)
For others, the loss of the job appears to have completely redefine their state and they perceive that they have reduced to nothing:
“…I am into business, I import things. My customer is in Italy and one is in US, they send me things, mattress, television, fridge and others. I cleared them, I do supply to my customers in Bogoso, Goaso, Prestea, and Tarkwa… Now I sell pure water, my ice chest is behind you”. (Participant 2, female, 44years)
Some victims have hard time making a living because their source of livelihood had been severely affected. For example, some participants said;
“…Since then, we have been through hardship. We don’t get money to do anything” (Participant 3).
Others also indicated;
“…I sleep outside, those are my things. My bags, sponge everything is inside. I sleep in front of Vienna City.” (Participant 2). Another added; “…it has cost me my children’s schooling” (Participant 6, female, 63years).
Psychological impact: This subtheme examines the psychological distress endured by victims over the years as a result of the disaster they experienced. This captures three dimensions namely anxiety, behavioural changes, and mood effects.
With regards to anxiety, long after the disaster participants still expressed feelings of uneasiness and fear about the event and related situations. They reported nightmares and uncomfortable memories about the event. Some participants expressed anxiety over the location of the disaster as shown in the following narratives;
“…I stopped going to circle or passing there. I remember one day I was going to Accra from Achimota, I used 37 (another route) instead of Circle. It makes my heart beat. But this year I manage to go there like three times.” (Participant 10, male, 30years)
“…Eeii, I get scared when I see it [i.e. the Circle filling station], I panic. After we were discharged from the hospital I didn’t want to come here. I came and stood at an area and decided boldly to come if not the fear will be there forever. So, I came with boldness, courage but sometimes I get frightened with goose bumps.” (Participant 4, female, 48years).
“…I still use circle to work and back. When I get there at first it scares me. Right now, it annoys me.” (Participant 12, male, 32years)
Some participants also indicated that they experience anxiety at specific times such as towards night, and during rains. “…I get panic, when am sleeping or walking around and when it’s getting to evening” (Participant 3). Another said “…I am better now but whenever it rains my fears and anxieties resurges”. (Participant 5, male, 37years)
“…When it is about to rain, I remember that day. It often keeps me awake especially if the rain is falling at night. Aha! And also, I don’t know, when I go upstairs, I remember the incidence a lot. It looks like it is happening again. Fortunately, my room is downstairs so I avoid the top as much as possible.” (Participant 11, female, 67years).
One participant expressed his experience of nightmare as follows:
“…I always dream about it. It’s like the thing is happening again. I fear at night because of the dreams. Even during the day sometimes, I dream about it. When I have the dream and I wake up then I become ‘basaa’ (i.e. disturbed).” (Participant 8, male, 47years)
Behavioural changes include information on some negative changes in the behaviour of victims following the disaster. This includes changes in sleep, eating and physical activities. Below are some extracts from their narratives;
“…I can’t sleep. I lie down like that then I open my eyes. I don’t feel fine now”. (Participant 3, female, 38years) and “…Currently I do not sleep so well, I wake up at 2 am and can’t go back to bed. Whereas I sleep better outside” (Participant 4, female, 48years).
For those experiencing eating related changes:
“…Eating, it is the worst of it all. Sometimes I can be stressed and forget whatever I am doing. I don’t even feel like eating” (Participant 2, female, 44years), and “…As for food I can eat a little. When I am eating, I don’t feel its taste, especially when I remember that I have nowhere to sleep.” (Participant 3, female, 38years).
Nevertheless, some participants indicated that their sleep and eating patterns had not changed that much. Below are some narratives;
“…As for eating honestly I can eat normal.” (Participant 10, male, 30years), and “…As for sleeping, I sleep well… No. Me, I dey eat paa oh (i.e. I eat so much) …” (Participant 6, female, 63years); “…I don’t think my eating has been affected that much. When I feel hungry and I get the food I can eat. So, I think that it is okay.” (Participant 11, female, 67years).
With regards to physical activities, some participants reported loss of energy and zeal or motivation. One participant said the following;
“…I wasn’t enjoying myself and the things I used to do in the past and it also impacted on my work. Because now even waking up and preparing for work became a challenge.” (Participant 1, female, 36years).
Mood effects describes the emotional feelings such as sadness, depression, loss of interest by victims of the disaster and anger. Some said they cried, felt sad and lost interest in activities. One of the participants responded that “…I wasn’t enjoying myself and the things I used to do in the past” Participant 1). Largely, these experiences underscore depressive symptoms among the victims. Below are some other quotes from other participants;
“…My brother, it is tough for me. If not my wife, hmmm. If it were some women, they would have left me. I have been crying aaa. I feel really sad.” (Participant 8, male, 47years), and “…I was thinking a lot. I still think but not like last year… I was getting angry too. The only thing is that I try not to offend the children.” (Participant 9, male, 47years).
A victim who was physically deformed by the disaster shared how difficult it is for him in public places. His ordeal affects the children as well as he indicated that the friends of his children will mock them when he turns up in the children’s school. This is what he said;
“…I can be very sad because my children when they say their parents should come to PTA I can’t go again because their friends will laugh at them.” (Participant 8, male, 47years)
He also lamented how the general public add to his pain.
“…It’s not easy my brother. If I go and join a trotro, people don’t want to sit on the seat with me. Meanwhile I didn’t bring this upon myself. But the thing is that as for the people they don’t know what happened to me. No, I look very scary. When I see people’s reaction then I start to cry. I can’t hold the tears. Hmmmm.” (Participant 8, male, 47years)
Victims have endured lots of emotional and physical difficulties over the years as a result of the disaster. This theme describes the resources that help them to live through the difficult times. These include how society intervened in order to assist the participants in their difficult moments. It also explains how families have been of support to participants. Therefore, there are three subthemes under this theme namely societal level intervention, family level intervention and spiritual support.
Societal level intervention
This describes interventions from society to support participants during and after the disaster. It was also noted that assistance from unrelated people, public figures and philanthropists was also helpful to victims. At the time, some political figures, footballers, and well to do Ghanaians were reported to have donated items and money for the upkeep of victims. Some also supported victims directly. Although participants’ responses indicated that these resources were not sufficient, but rather more driven towards attenuating acute crisis, they provided some initial relief:
“…It was Ken Agyapong (a member of parliament) who promised to take care of that child .so he asked me to look for school for him so he paid everything. 11 million old currency…. Mr Osei Kwame Despite also gave me some money. I used some to sew uniform for the children among others. I rented a room for 2 years. After the advance expired, I couldn’t renew it” (Participant 2, female, 44years)
As indicated above, the support received by the above participant lasted only during the early phase of the crisis, but ceased afterwards. Some participants also got support from government especially through the NADMO. For example, one participant said;
“…A lot of support for possessions came. NADMO also came. Government gave us GHS 100 for 3 months. They registered us and gave us and ATM card [Actually an ezwich card] which we withdrew funds for just 3 months. From there I did not get anything again. (Participant 5, male, 37years).
The above also reiterates the insufficiency of the support participants received after the disaster. This signifies the temporary reliefs offered participants. However, the long-term needs of the participants would not be appreciated by society.
Some participants also received support from friends. For example,
“…My friends have been good. Even though most of them died, the few I have, have been good to me. I also hassle small, small.” (Participant 10, male, 30years) and “…Eee as for friends in terms of dresses, clothes they helped but not anymore” (Participant 2, female, 44years).
Another participant indicated that things are still hard that she had to fall on friends sometimes for money and good to sell and pay back later:
“…Sometimes, when I see my friend, I beg for money say GHC10.00 and they give me. I collect cake from a certain woman and sell then I return the proceeds” (Participant 3m female, 38years).
Another one also said that the sympathy and emotional support from friends was helpful:
“…There were a lot of friends who sympathised with me and my children. There were calling and encouraging especially the church people” (Participant 9, male, 42years).
Family level intervention: Participants also reported how helpful family members have been in the trying moments of their lives. For many of them, relatives came to their aid. In this case, some participants supported by family members to relocate. Others were re-established in order to make a living. For example, “…My children try to help me. As I told you they put up my shop again for me” (Participant 11, female, 67years).
Some participants said their relations who were abroad and heard about their ordeal came to Ghana to support them:
“…As I said, physically my brother came down and bought the little, little things that would make us comfortable. (Participant 1, female, 36years)
“…my daughter lives at Italy… so my daughter come down and she came to help me to acquire those things back… helped me to build my own house where I now live” (Participant 7, male, 60years).
Another participant also expressed joy about how family members had been supportive;
“…My family was very supportive. They have helped me raise the kids this far. I don’t really need money or materials from them. They have provided us with emotional support. They were really there” (Participant 9, male, 42years).
Spiritual Factors: Some participants also used religious or spiritual coping methods such as praying and attending church. For example, some participants recounted that;
“…I have become stronger in faith and even now I have learnt a lot. Anytime I look back to that experience, I know that God had a hand in it.” (Participant 1, female, 36years) and “…I thank God for life. At first, I didn’t mind. Now I am close to God. It has also made me manage the little I have now.” (Participant 10, male, 30years).
The participant 10 was explicit even that it was the disaster that made him start going to church as in the following;
“…at first I was not going to church. It is now that I am going. They don’t know anything about my situation. But for me I go to church now because I know what God has done for me.” (Participant 10, male, 30years)
For most of the participants, being alive is valuable than the possessions they lost. This gives them some strength to ride on. They appreciate that a supreme being (God) is the holder of all lives and that one must be grateful if we have life:
“…I appreciate life now than before. You can just vanish like that, so when we have a day, we must be grateful. Now I see people do things and I tell myself that they have not seen anything in life” (Participant 9, male, 42years)
“…It has made me appreciate people a lot. And also, I value life. It is very simple to die. But God is the one that keeps us alive. I now try to be closer to God” (Participant 12, male, 32years).
One participant expresses how God has been personal with him. He believes that he is precious to God and that might have spared his life. “…I am precious to God. Having my life alone is precious to me. That is my strength…I know God is on my side. There is always hope once there is life.” (Participant 7, male, 60years). This participant also implies that life without possessions is sufficient. This must be a strong resource for coping with disaster effects.