Scores die in Kenyan ‘hell on earth’
Large parts of East Africa flooded after weeks of rain affect millions, triggering relief efforts to stave off hunger and prevent disease
Nairobi — At least 41 people died after a dam burst in central Kenya, police said on Thursday, as residents described muddy waters ripping through their homes in what one survivor called “hell on earth”.
After a severe drought, weeks of torrential rains in Kenya have led to flooding and mudslides that left 172 dead.
The private Patel dam, used for irrigation and fish farming, burst its earthen banks on Wednesday night in Solai, near the Rift Valley city of Nakuru, regional police chief Gideon Kibunjah told AFP.
The raging waters wiped out two villages, a resident said, while power lines were swept away, leaving many without electricity. The search for victims was interrupted on Thursday afternoon by heavy rains.
“We have 41 people dead from this tragedy,” Kibunjah said, adding that 20 of them were children. He said the search for victims was continuing.
“It is a disaster because most people were asleep when the tragedy occurred and their houses were swept away.” He said that 36 people had been hospitalised.
Survivor Ngugi Njoroge said he and his family were having dinner when there was a “loud explosion of water that washed away our home.
“I was with my parents and my younger brother. I don’t know where they are. I was carried away by the water but I was lucky as I clung to a tree until the water subsided,” he said from his hospital bed.
“It was like hell on earth,” said Miriam Karimi, who could not find any of her three children, including her four-year-old son.
“When we heard noises, we thought it was raining heavily nearby. I’m so confused. I hope they are alive,” she said.
A senior police officer at the scene, speaking on condition of anonymity, said emergency workers had spent the night combing through engulfed houses to retrieve bodies.
“We found 11 of the bodies covered with mud at a coffee plantation and these are people who may have been escaping but could not make it due to the force and speed of the water from the flooded dam,” he said.
“Most of them are women and children, who would not have been able to run fast, and the elderly.” The dam is close to an informal settlement housing casual labourers who work on nearby farms.
The Kenyan Red Cross estimates that up to 500 families were affected by the disaster, which took place some 150km northwest of Nairobi.
Weeks of torrential rains in Kenya have led to flooding and mudslides countrywide.
Statistics released by the government on Wednesday showed that more than 220,000 people have been displaced by flooding as heavy rains hit the country after three consecutive failed rainy seasons had left it in drought.
Since March, at least 8,500ha of farmland have been submerged in water, with an estimated 20,000 animals killed, the Red Cross said last week. The floods destroyed road networks in some parts of the East African country and in some cases the military has stepped in to airlift residents from submerged houses.
The Red Cross appealed last week for $5m to help the millions affected.
The deluge has affected large parts of East Africa and has sent food prices and inflation soaring, leaving millions in need of food aid and basic services.
In Rwanda 215 people have died because of floods and landslides since January, according to Philippe Habinshuti of the country’s disaster management ministry. In Somalia flooding has displaced tens of thousands, while torrential rains have also caused havoc in Tanzania and Uganda.