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Virendra PROAG
University of Mauritius

Abstract (2) earmark the boundary of the reserved low lying

areas reserved for extreme flood conditions.
Many areas in Mauritius get flooded regularly due
This paper presents the relevant criteria to adopt for
drain design in Mauritius.
(a) sudden rain of unexpected magnitude
(b) building permits given on historically flood- 1. Introduction
able land
(c) inadequate drains. There are many places which receive heavy rains
without anybody being aware of the fact, simply
Rainfall frequency and intensity records can be because no area gets flooded. In other places, how-
used to estimate the magnitude of rains and the en- ever, there are many tell-tale signs, either during or
suing flood flows. There is a 26 % probability that after the heavy rains. The signs noticed afterwards
a 100 year rain will occur during the next 30 years indicate the levels to which the water levels rose
(a generation). Even if a higher return interval, e.g. during the peak of the storm. If the existing drains
1,000 years is taken, it is found that there is 7.2 % are unable to carry the flood peaks generated, then
chance (not to be neglected as being small) that a people do notice the flooding of the surroundings,
1,000 year flood will occur during a 75 year span sometimes with devastating results and loss of life
a mans lifetime. and material damage. A sudden heavy rainfall will
cause flooding if there is no drain to carry the water
In a small country like Mauritius, it is difficult to away.
give flood warnings in advance that one can aban-
don house and move furniture. The flooding might A low lying area will certainly be flooded because
occur suddenly in the middle of the night, when all water will eventually accumulate there and it is
there has been a power cut. usually difficult to make drains which are at a still
lower level. The area nearby is also likely to be af-
The only solution to have dry feet would be to have fected in case the drain, if any, has an inadequate
adequate drainage. carrying capacity.

Is it acceptable for ones house to get flooded every Flooding seems to be a regular phenomenon which
10 years? Or every 30 years? Or never at all during occurs in many countries for several reasons,
ones lifetime? The three alternatives will require namely: (a) building permits given on historically
drains of different sizes, with different costs. floodable land (b) inadequate drains (c) sudden
rain of unexpected magnitude
Once the desired safety from floods has been ac-
cepted preferably through legislation it would It is therefore important that the catchment area of
be easy to the urban environment be studied for the low lying
(1) design for the adequate drain capacity areas and the natural draining channels. These areas

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should in the first instance be completely avoided

for building purposes. While the above explains how building permits
wrongly given or drains with inadequate capacity
2. Outline Planning Schemes allow flooding to occur, it is judicious to examine
An outline planning scheme aims to define zones sudden rainfall. If intense rainfall magnitudes can
where different activities are allowed, including be estimated, this could help in designing the appro-
housing. The main parameters that are considered priate drains. Thus, before designing drains to carry
are environmental, but rarely do we find drainage flood flows, it is necessary to determine the magni-
being taken into account because of possible impacts tude of the flood flows.
of its non existence.
3. Determination of Flood Flows
If there were no floods during some 50 years in liv- One approach to the problem is as follows:
ing memory (or sometimes even during the last 40
years average service time of a building permit Walk over survey of the area
officer), it is reasonably felt that there is no danger Obtain local historical flooding levels from
of any big flood occurring in the area. Very often, the residents
there are historical records which can confirm that Collect data
the given area had been flooded so many years ago Analysis of collected data to estimate flood
sometimes, 300 years or 500 years. Unfortunately, flows
it is not always easy to go through these records or Estimate size of channel sections under the
to check them. bridge

Thus, building permits are very often given on land 4. Walk Over Survey
which, according to historical records, is prone to Site visits undertaken on the existing or nearby re-
flooding. gions will enable meeting people, sometimes old,
who recollect what they (or their grandparents) saw
Building lots have often been earmarked by the land during flood conditions - the flood levels observed.
promoter within drainage channels low lying con- A backflow analysis may help in crosschecking the
tours. While these should be a constraint against present flood estimates.
giving the building permit, political pressure or an
unwary building permit officer may come in the These are certainly of use, as a check, during design
way. At other times, a whole set of houses have been work.
built in a low lying area which could very well form
a lake if a regular means of feeding it with water was 5. Data Collection
available. In this case, it is usually difficult to make
drains which are at a lower level.
5.1 General Approach
Very often, flooding occurs because the drain, if any, How often have promoters accepted a consultants
has an inadequate carrying capacity, or has a carry- offer to design drains capable of carrying flow with
ing capacity which has not been designed to take a return period of 2 years?
sudden heavy rainfalls Sometimes, the drains are
permanently inadequate as one road engineer ex- Many codes of practice indicate a good guideline to
plained, he designed road drains to cater only for the design drains, etc with a return period of 50 years.
rainfall coming from the road. The drains coming
from the nearby building lots were not supposed to This section refers to the catchment parameters
discharge into his road drain !!!. which will enable determining some further factors

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needed for the calculation of floods. In a first stage, the catchment area, slope (= elevation difference/stream
length) are required to find the time of concentration.

The peak flood flow is given by the relation Qp = CiA, adjusted (for the units given) to

Qp = 0.278 C i A

Where C = runoff coefficient

i = rainfall intensity (mm/hr)
A = drainage catchment area (km2)
Qp = Design Discharge (m3/s)

The runoff coefficient is a function of the vegetation, urbanisation and other factors of the catchment. The
rainfall intensity to be used depends on the time it takes the whole catchment to contribute to the flow in the
drainage channel.

These parameters are discussed below.

Figure 1 : How rainfall is shared among different components

Figure 1 shows the process of rainfall, wherein rainfall (or precipitation when it includes hail, snow, etc) is
the sum of the ensuing evaporation, infiltration and runoff.

The lands surface always has a slope, however small it might be, which determines the direction of flow
(here, the runoff).

Figure 2 indicates how the ridge at the top of a valley slope will divide rainfall, which will run along slopes
of either side of the ridge. The area enclosed by a given ridge determines a catchment area. Depending on
the point of interest, the catchment area will vary. Point X determines a smaller catchment area than point
Y, and it turn area at point Y is smaller than that governed by point Z. Eventually, the estuary governs an
even bigger area.

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Figure 2: The catchment area gets bigger downstream of the valley

So, this diagram illustrates how rain from the valley will run to a low point. Therefore, unless a drain
has been specifically designed to take this rainwater, it will run into the drain besides the road, even if
the engineer wrongly believed that only water from his road would run into the road drained he designed
to take water, just from the road. And, if there are no road drains, the road itself will act as a well-
designed drain. The recent heavy rainfalls in Port Louis and in other places bear good testimony to this

Figure 3: The estuary is the lowest and final exit drainage point


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Fy = frequency factor
Therefore, one first rule to avoid flooding is to = 1.20 for a 100-year return period.
make sure that the catchment area of the drain
being designed is not underestimated. Not rocket
The runoff coefficient thus works out (for this return
science, but how often ignored by engineers and
period) to be
C = 1.2 (0.45 + 0.20 x 1) = 0.78

Figure 3 gives an overall picture of a valley (with

Different authors give other formulae or tabulated
smaller valleys inside) and indicates how everything
values, depending on soil cover.
discharges into the lowest point which happens to be
the estuary.
If Figure 1 is examined again, several observations
In this connection, there is a parallel with traffic
may be made:
flow. Unless the conveying capacity QOUT is greater
than the incoming flow of traffic QIN, there is going The equation,
to be a traffic jam. While this results in a halt or
lower speed in case of vehicles, unfortunately with Rainfall = Evaporation + Infiltration + Runoff
water, this higher inflow leads to non-stopping flow
which results in overtopping the drain and flooding while holding true in all cases, does not indicate that
the sides. runoff or any of the other parameters are constant,
though they may be taken to be taken as an average
Therefore, another rule to avoid flooding would over the year and so on.
be to make sure that the carrying capacity COUT
of the channel drain exceeds the peak discharge For example, during a hot sunny day, imagine that
Qp . some rain falls. As the rain drops touch the ground
(soil or road surface) water vapour can be seen to
COUT Qp rise in the air. Evaporation is actually occurring!

Simple logic, but how often ignored! If it is a light rain, the ground surface will be seen
to dry up quickly. Either all rain water evaporates
5.2 Runoff Coefficient Value on the road or some of the rain is absorbed into the
The runoff coefficient C represents the ratio of a peak earth : infiltration is taking place.
flow and rainfall rate of selected duration determined
or the same average recurrence interval from The end result is, however: there is NO runoff!
frequency analysis of flood peaks and rainfalls.
At the other end of the scale, even under the same
There are various factors affecting the runoff sunny conditions, if there is a heavy rain, there will
coefficient which must be considered. In a substantial runoff towards a low point (drain, river,
consideration of these, the Institution of Engineers, pond), because the soil has reached its infiltration
Australia (Abbey, 1999) recommends that the runoff capacity. The soil is momentarily saturated.
coefficient C be taken as
The ratio of this runoff to the measured rainfall is
C = Fy (0.45 + 0.20 fi) the runoff coefficient.
Again, this runoff coefficient may be measured as an
fi = impervious factor, taken as 1 as a worst
average over a period of time, or at every instant or
over very short intervals.


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Typically, it is usual to give the average over a underestimate the loading conditions (here, the
long interval of time for the runoff coefficient. possibility that the rain will not infiltrate at all, nor
evaporate, is real. It does happen.). Furthermore,
However, for those people who have experienced the drain is expected to be effective under extreme
cyclonic conditions, the situation is different. conditions, not only when it rains slightly.

When there are heavy rains, in fact, rain might be 5.3 Intense Rainfalls
falling continuously/on and off, during several days.
Normal rainfalls do not cause flooding to occur. So
The soil is now saturated over a longer period, and
a serious study of flooding needs to consider intense
this can be felt even outside cyclonic conditions.

Imagine now a sudden, heavy rainfall under these

The worlds greatest recorded rainfalls, according to
conditions. This will just be runoff. There will be
the World Meteorological Organisation are approxi-
NO infiltration (saturated soil) and little evaporation
mated by the equation
(the air is saturated with water vapour).
P = 422 Td0.475
So now, the runoff coefficient C = 1, taken as 1 is a Where
worst case, that needs to be considered. P = the rainfall (precipitation) depth in
Although this might be difficult to swallow, it is millimetres
judicious to examine the situation in the light of Td = the duration in hours
actual experience. Mauritius is a tropical island with
tropical heavy rains, not a desert where it rains 20 The equation was obtained by fitting data from
mm per year !! observed extreme rainfalls at many locations for
durations ranging from one minute to several
If, on top of that (as in Port Louis), the ground months. This equation is an estimate of the
surface consists of clayey soil or is mostly paved, precipitation depths that could occur under very
again the runoff coefficient is going to be C = 1. extreme circumstances.

This is the third rule to consider: In tropical If Td is taken as 1 hour, the rainfall is 422 millimetres.
countries, take C = 1 Something to think about!

This factor will increase the design flow to be Fortunately, the rainfall records in Mauritius do
not indicate such extremes in Mauritius, but heavy
Table 1: Typical Rainfall Intensities (mm/h)
rains with 100 mm/hr over an hour or so are not
Duration (mins) uncommon (89 mm at Dubreuil on 22nd December
Seychelles Mauritius
T = 100 years 1979 over 1 hour , 310 mm at La Brasserie over 150
30 mins 150 120 minutes on 6th February 1992 and more recently 91
mm at Line Barracks, Port Louis, between 2 and 3
60 120 100
p.m, on 30th March 2013. The rainfall collected over
Duration (mins)
the first half hour was 50 mm which amounts to an
T = 50 years
intensity of 100 mm/hour)
30 140 110
5.4 Rainfall Intensity and Frequency
60 105 90
To introduce the subject, a 100 m sprinter runs at
considered, for sure. However, though the engineers a speed of 36 km/h on a 10 second race, but the
job is to do an economical design, he should not average speed is much lower (22 km/h) when another


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runner (or the same person) undertakes a 10,000 m The time of concentration rarely falls exactly on the
marathon. duration time for which figures have been provided
by the Meteorological Services. A judicious
Similarly, though a rainfall may last several hours interpolation helps.
(long distance race), the critical condition to observe
in drain design is the highest rain intensity (highest As previously indicated, a 50 year return period is
speed over a short distance race).
a good guideline, but sometimes the designer might
feel that a 100 year return period might be better.
The rainfall intensity i is the average rate of
For example, a bridge (Bindra, 1975) is a structure
precipitation in mm/hr from a storm having a
that is expected to be in operation during a very long
duration equal to the time of concentration.
period. In this context, it is natural to consider events
with a return period of 50 years or even more. There
It is assumed that runoff due to a heavy rainfall will
are so many bridges in the world which have been
reach a peak at the time of concentration when the
standing for more than 50 years.
whole catchment is contributing to flow. Then, the
duration of the design storm is equal to the time of
A 100-year rainfall has a 1% chance of occurring in
any single year. This issue will be discussed below.
6. Is a Return Period of 50 years Acceptable?
The time of concentration tc is thus the time taken
The results obtained from the above calculations
for water to travel from the catchment boundary to
can prove to be very important in the design of hy-
the point of interest (Points X, Y or Z or estuary) in
drological structures such as bridge culverts and
Figure 2).
channels to drain the area under consideration and
prevent flooding. Every structure is designed for a
For small, steep areas, (e.g. Mauritius, Seychelles),
certain design life and it must be ensured that this
the Kirpich formula has been found to give reasonable
structure serves for its purpose without endangering
estimates for tc. In this formula,
any life and property.

tc = 0.01947 L0.77 S -0.385

The risk that failure of such a structure occurring
during its design life has been explained by Mays
tc = time of concentration in minutes
(2004) as follows:
L = maximum length of travel of water (m)
Let P be the probability of the occurrence of an
S = slope of catchment = H/L in which
1 P = probability that the event will not
H = difference in elevation between the most
remote point on the catchment and the outlet.
(1 P)(1 P) = probability that the event will not
Mays (2004), Reddy (2008) and Rmniras (1986) occur in two successive years.
give other similar formulae, applicable in different (1 P)(1 P)(1 P) = probability that the event will
conditions. not occur in three successive years.
Rainfall intensity-frequency-duration curves are (1 P) N = probability that the event will not
usually derived by the countrys Meteorological occur during a span of N successive years.
Services. The rainfall intensity (mm/ or mm/min)
figures are available for different periods of time, Hence, the risk, R or the probability that the event
such as 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 60 and 120 minutes. Table 1 will occur during a span of N years is given by,
shows examples of rainfall intensities for Seychelles R = 1 (1 - P) N
and Mauritius. The probability P is given by P = 1/Tr. Table 2 shows,
for return periods Tr and various spans of years N,


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Table 2: Risk R, that a flood of a given return period will be equalled or exceeded during
periods of various lengths.
Period Risk R for various spans of N years

5 10 30 50 75 100 200 500

Tr (years)
1 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0
5 0.67 0.89 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0
10 0.41 0.65 0.96 0.995 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0
50 0.10 0.18 0.45 0.64 0.78 0.87 0.98 1.0
100 0.05 0.10 0.26 0.40 0.53 0.63 0.87 0.99
500 0.01 0.020 0.058 0.095 0.14 0.18 0.33 0.63
1,000 0.005 0.010 0.03 0.049 0.072 0.095 0.18 0.39
5,000 0.001 0.002 0.006 0.010 0.015 0.020 0.039 0.095
10,000 0.0005 0.001 0.003 0.005 0.0075 0.0099 0.020 0.049

the risk R that a flood with certain return period will ten used in the design of huge structures. There is
be equalled or exceeded during periods of span N also an increase in cost by considering the design of
years. a structure for a long return period. However, this
Rainfall frequency and intensity records can be used should be done to be safe from calamities causing
to estimate the magnitude of rains and the ensuing loss of life and property.
flood flows. In this respect, it is important to note
that there is a 26 % probability that a 100 year rain Many Codes of Practice indicate that one of the
will occur during the next 30 years (a generation). reasons for choosing a return period of 50 years has
been that the average lifetime of most buildings and
In practical terms, this means that each generation structures is near 50 years.
has a 1 in 4 chance of experiencing flooding, even
if an exceptional (?) rainfall intensity of 100 year This may have been true at one time. There
has been considered. Over a 75 year lifetime, the are, however, other factors which need to be
likelihood rises to 0.53, i.e., the average person has considered:
a 1 in 2 chance of experiencing flooding during (1) the use of better materials has increased the
his lifetime. lifetime of the buildings and structures. Similarly,
the corresponding drains or bridge culverts will
Is the population ready to accept this? have a longer life.

(2) why should any owner, demolish his building

Even if a higher return interval (e.g. 1,000 years) is
after 50 years, if it is still serviceable? The Eiffel
taken, it is found that there is 7.2 % chance (not to be
Tower was built in 1889, to be demolished just after
neglected as being small) that a 1,000 year flood will the Universal Paris Exhibition. It is still standing and
occur during a 75 year span a mans lifetime. being regularly maintained. We have not yet seen
any drain being demolished to be enlarged, except
It can be noticed that the risk that an event is reached when they have really been shown to be inadequate.
or exceeded for a certain span of time, decreases Even if a local authority tried to do so, it very likely
with an increase in return period. This result is of- that adjoining structures would prevent this.


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There so many cathedrals and nearby bridges built = 0.030 rivers in good condition
in the eighteenth century in Mauritius (thirteenth
century in Europe) still standing today. Would any Design constraints are usually channel or river
present day designer still consider a 50 years lifetime width and slopes, but the designer should try to see
for such monuments? if other accompanying measures need to be taken.
The choice is likely to be governed by minimum
(3) the cost of demolition becomes so high that the headway clearances under the bridge due (1) to the
owner is likely to push the time limit before he has possibility of branches and trees being carried away
to really bring down the structure.. and (2) other facilities passing under or by the side
of the bridge.
If these factors are considered, what return period
should be considered? Some river training works might be necessary just
In dam hydrology, the notion of maximum possible upstream or downstream of the bridge.
flood (return period of 10,000 to 50,000 years,
depending on authors) has made its appearance, for In this context, this formula is enlightening. The
exactly the same reasons the possible danger to same channel will have different carrying or
human life. discharge capacities if any of the variables changes.
A bigger cross sectional area will increase the
It might be argued that with only some 100 years channel capacity, but the effect will be attenuated
data or, in most cases, even less, it is difficult to if the roughness changes from a smooth, cement
make predictions (or wild guesses) about 10,000 lining to a river in bad condition.
years recurrence intervals. But, if a bridge culvert or
drainage channel is needed now nobody will wait 8. The Case for Port Louis
to collect another 50 years of rainfall data. The motorway was flooded at Caudan between
Rogers House and the waterfront on 11th February
7. Estimation of the Peak Design 2013, without much damage. There was a worse
Discharge incident on 30th March 2013, with loss of life.
At this stage, the peak design discharge may be
calculated and hence used to design the drain or The rainfall recorded, on 30th March 2013, at Line
bridge culvert as the case may be. Barracks (less than 100 mm in 1 hour) would
indicate, from Table 1, a return period of some 50-
Once the design flow has been established, channel 100 years. However, the fact that there was a similar
hydraulics may be used to design the channel or flooding at Place dArmes/Caudan (apparently
culvert. One typical carrying capacity formula is without the underground pedestrian pathways
that of Manning
getting submerged) on 11th April 2003 (Wright A.,
Moonien V., 2013) confirms the values of Table 2.
A 50 year flood does not occur every 50 years! It
will certainly occur during a period of 500 years, but
may also occur within the next 10 years !!
COUT = flow in channel (m3/s) In the light of the above discussion, it is judicious
A = wetted area (m2) to ask whether flooding can occur again, and how
R = hydraulic radius (m) = wetted area/wetted soon?
perimeter (m)
S = channel slope The motorway from Montebello towards Port Louis
n = Mannings roughness coefficient is lined, practically on both sides with concrete
= 0.010 smooth, cement lining borders or walls, which are supposed to be very
= 0.013 good brickwork


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Photo 1: Place dArmes. The arrows show the slope direction

Photo 2 : The Caudan Esplanade (right) is at a higher level than Place dArmes


effective against cars trying to rub into them. The the existing canals/streams are not enough or are
walls are also provided, at regular distances, with inadequate to evacuate the water reaching Place
weep holes, which are expected to evacuate water dArmes in case of heavy rainfall.
into the side drains.
So, knowing that a rainfall of intensity 100 mm/
While these weep holes can be very effective in hr is not uncommon (see examples and values
evacuating low flows, their small size (some 30 x 10 Meteorological Services Table 1), have we proposed
cm to 40 x 15 cm) becomes inadequate when heavy any new canals to evacuate more water?
rains and winds bring in their loads of gravel, leaves,
and mud. When these weep holes are blocked, the 9. Conclusion
bituminous motorway becomes a very well designed, This study has proposed an approach to be adopted
bitumen lined channel, which was well evidenced prior to the approval of planning or zoning schemes
during the heavy rains of 30th March 2013. The with respect to possible flooding.
motorway was conveying water which was supposed
to be evacuated into the side drains. Rule 1: Do not underestimate the catchment to be
drained, particularly when designing roads. The area,
At end of July 2013, the weep holes are still of the A, is much bigger than the road itself.
same size! Rule 2: In a tropical country like Mauritius, take C
= 1, to cater for extreme conditions when the soil is
Between Edith Cavell street and the Government saturated.
House, the lowest points in Port Louis occur along
Rule 3: Determine the rainfall intensity, i, using
the La Poudrire street. Rightly so, the two channels
the proper and adequate return period, which is
Le Pouce stream and La Butte Thonnier canal are
commensurate with what the population expects from
located on both sides of this road. The ground also
engineers for leading a comfortable life.
has a downstream slope towards the sea. This means
that any rainfall will be channelled towards these two Rule 4: Determine the peak discharge Qp from
canals/channels and towards the sea. the equation Qp = 0.278 C i A. The size (width and
height) of the channel must consider the possibility of
The only problem is that at the level of the Harbour avoiding blockage by shrubs, leaves and trees during
Front and Place dArmes, there is an uprising obstacle cyclones.
(Photos 1 and 2) in the form of the motorway and the
Caudan Esplanade. This now implies, that should the Rule 5: Design the drain carrying capacity
peak discharge flow from heavy rainfall exceed the
discharge capacity of the channels, the flood waters
will not go directly towards the sea, unless and until
they have overtopped the motorway and the Caudan
waterfront Esplanade. Of course, with a consequential Rule 6: Check that COUT Qp
ponding of the area between the Port Louis museum
It has been argued that a 50 year return period is prob-
and the Place dArmes. Again, this is simple logic,
ably too low and higher return periods should be tak-
borne out by the events of 11th April 2003 and 30th
en, given the relatively high probability of occurrence
March 2013.
during a mans lifetime.
Even assuming that the motorway constitutes a
Once the desired safety from floods has been accepted
roadblock in the evacuation of rainwater from Place
preferably through legislation it would be easy to
dArmes, historical records (Chelin 1989) show
earmark the boundary of the reserved low lying areas
that floods have occurred several times, prior to
reserved for extreme flood conditions. This should
the construction of the motorway. This implies that


iem journal sept 2013Book 1.indb 17 9/4/2013 1:43:20 PM


ensure that houses do not get flooded regularly. References

It is essential that such guidelines and low lying

Abbey, P. 1999, Storm Water Drainage Design
boundaries be properly adhered to, particularly when
Guidelines, report for Government of Seychelles,
establishing planning zones.
Ministry of Environment and Transport.

A discussion of the flooding occurrences in Port Lou- Bindra S. P. 1975, Principles and Practice of Bridge
is, before and after the construction of the motorway Engineering. Dhanpat Rai, New Delhi.
in the 1970s, tends to highlight a possible inadequacy Chelin A. 1989, Maurice : Une le et son pass.
of the existing drainage exits into the sea. Editions du CRI, Ile de la Runion.
Mays L. W. 2004, Water Resources Engineering.
John Wiley, USA.
Moonien V. 2013, Inondations: Port Louis dj sous
leau 2003. LExpress, 11th August 2013, p. 20.
Parker D. J. 1998, Warnings for Torrential Rain and
Floodings in Mauritius. Recommendations for the
Government of Mauritius.
Proag V. 1995, The Geology and Water Resources of
Mauritius. Mahatma Gandhi Institute, Mauritius.
Reddy P. J. R. 2008, A Textbook of Hydrology.
University Science Press, New Delhi.
Rmniras G. 1986, Lhydrologie de lingnieur.
Eyrolles, Paris.
Ven Te Chow., Maidment D.R., and Mays L. W. 1988,
Applied Hydrology. McGrawHill, New York.
Wilson E. M. 1990, Engineering Hydrology.
Macmillan, England.
Wright A . 2013, Rien na chang pour les autorits
. LExpress, 10th August 2013, p. 9.


iem journal sept 2013Book 1.indb 18 9/4/2013 1:43:20 PM