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Dozens killed as dam bursts in flood-hit Kenya

Kenya dam bursts, killing at least 42: governor
Source: Video Screenshot

At least 45 people died when a makeshift dam burst its banks near a town in Kenya’s Rift Valley in the early hours of Monday, police said, as torrential rains and floods battered the country.

The disaster raises the total death toll over the March-May wet season in Kenya to more than 120 as heavier than usual rainfall pounds East Africa, compounded by the El Nino weather pattern.

Residents said the accident occurred in the dead of night near Mai Mahiu, in Nakuru county, sending water gushing down a hill and engulfing everything in its path.

The deluge cut off a road, uprooted trees, washed away homes and sent vehicles flying.

“We heard what sounded like an earthquake and roars like a moving train,” said Margaret Wangechi, a 52-year-old teacher.

A senior officer at Nakuru County police headquarters told AFP by phone that 45 bodies had been recovered so far, while Nakuru governor Susan Kihika said 110 people were being treated in hospital.

Rescuers were digging through the debris, using hoes and in some cases just their bare hands in a desperate search for survivors.

“We collected some of the bodies held by trees and we don’t know how many are under the mud,” Stephen Njihia Njoroge, a local resident involved in the emergency efforts, told AFP.

The disaster occurred at Old Kijabe dam, a hillside barrier formed naturally over decades after railway construction work by Kenya’s former British colonial rulers.

The Red Cross has set up a desk at a local school to help families find lost relatives.

He also said on X that the authorities would arrest people engaging in “risky behaviour”, including motorists attempting dangerous crossings and anyone seeking to transport “passengers across flooded rivers or storm water by unsafe canoes or boats”.

His comments came after a boat packed with people capsized at the weekend in flooded Tana River county in eastern Kenya, with the Kenya Red Cross saying it had retrieved two bodies and rescued 23 others.

The government said Monday that search and rescue efforts there were ongoing.

Video footage shared online and on television showed the crowded boat sinking, with people screaming as onlookers watched in horror.

On Saturday, officials said 76 people had lost their lives in Kenya since March, with more than 130,000 displaced.

Schools have been forced to remain shut following mid-term holidays, after the education ministry announced Monday it would postpone their reopening to May 6 because of the rains.

The monsoons have also wreaked havoc in neighbouring Tanzania, where at least 155 people have been killed in flooding and landslides.

In Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, flooding claimed the lives of four people on Monday, according to the Fire and Disaster Risk Management Commission.

A woman and her baby died in the Rwandan capital Kigali on Sunday when heavy rainfall caused their house to collapse, police said.

In neighbouring Burundi, one of the world’s poorest countries, about 96,000 people have been displaced by months of relentless rains, according to the United Nations and the government.

Uganda has also suffered heavy storms that have caused riverbanks to burst, with two deaths confirmed and several hundred villagers displaced.

Monday’s dam tragedy comes six years after a similar accident at Solai, also in Nakuru county, killed 48 people, sending millions of litres of muddy waters raging through homes and destroying power lines.

The May 2018 disaster involving a private reservoir on a coffee estate also followed weeks of torrential rains that sparked deadly floods and mudslides.

El Nino is a naturally occurring climate pattern typically associated with increased heat worldwide, leading to drought in some parts of the world and heavy rains elsewhere.

Late last year, more than 300 people died in rains and floods in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, just as the region was trying to recover from its worst drought in four decades that left millions of people hungry.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said in March that the latest El Nino is one of the five strongest ever recorded.


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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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