Victims of tanker fire struggling to pick up the pieces


Maturu Primary School Class 7 pupil Brian Ilaki, one of the accident victims who survived at Mukhonje where a diesel tanker lost control rammed into three vehicles before exploding into flames along Malaba- Eldoret highway [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The partially destroyed building and scorched earth at Mukhonje are reminders of a ghastly accident.

August 26, 2021, started like any other day for residents of the busy market along the Webuye-Eldoret road.

Shortly before 5pm, the serenity around the market was shattered by a blaring horn, several loud thuds and an explosion, followed by a fierce fire.

A fuel tanker going towards Webuye had rammed another tanker and shoved it into a stationary matatu before both vehicles hit a power transformer and caught fire.

Four people died in the ensuing inferno. Brian Ilaki, an 11-year-old pupil at Maturu Primary School, had gone to the market to buy vegetables when the accident happened.

“While he was crossing in front of the ill-fated matatu, the accident occurred, and he was knocked down,” Everlyne Mulama, his mother, recalls.

When The Standard team visited survivors at the Webuye County Hospital a day after the accident, Ilaki lay in bed motionless, bandaged and in pain. He had dislocations at the hip and lower back and could not move.

There were deep cuts on his head, behind the left ear and on his hands. Besides him, on the hospital bed, his mother Mulama sat pensively.

But when we caught up with him again a few days ago, he was at school, eager to catch up with the rest of the class.

“He is traumatised but is recovering gradually. He went back to school this week even though he still experiences pain and has trouble concentrating,” she says. Most nights, he is unable to go to sleep without pain relievers. He no longer uses crutches but cannot walk or sit for long periods.”

Back at school, Standard Seven class teacher, Sarah Mwenje, says Ilaki is a bright student, but the accident has affected him psychologically.

“Since he came back to school last week, he has difficulty recalling things. We pray and hope he will catch up with time,” Mwenje says.

Further, any sudden or loud sound startles Ilaki.

“Ilaki lost his father in an accident at Molo when he was one year old,” Mulama says in a constrained voice.

“It is a daily struggle for me to feed and educate him and his siblings as a single mother. I do casual jobs, but I lost the last one I had after the accident because of the time I spent with him in hospital,” she adds.

Mulama says she has so far spent about Sh32,800 on her son’s medical bills. “This is far more than the Sh25,000 the Kakamega County government gave me, yet the treatment is far from over. He is attending the clinic, and that requires money,” she says.

Phillip Wataka, another survivor, is still nursing wounds that he sustained from the accident.

He cuts a dejected figure, looks pained, and has trouble concentrating.

“I was hit by the matatu after the triple impact and sustained these wounds. I cannot afford to go to the hospital regularly because I do not have money. I am an orphan, and I have already spent the Sh20,000 compensation given to me by the County government,” he said.

Health experts warn that most people who undergo life-threatening situations end up suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event.

Some of the symptoms include reduced concentration, memory loss, confusion, fear and anxiety.

Experts say the symptoms last from a few days to months, depending on the individual.

In extreme cases, the individuals are advised to seek professional help.

Bishop Harun Kokonyi Sirengo of Mercy Gospel Church was in the ill-fated matatu and sustained head, chest and spinal injuries.

“I was not a beneficiary of the county government compensation because my name was not on the list of people admitted to various hospitals. I have spent more than Sh15,000 on treatment, and although I feel much better, I still go for medical check-ups,” he said.

Despite the fire, Paul Simiti went into action and saved several people, including Ilaki and Bishop Sirengo.

“I rushed Ilaki to the nearest clinic, but there was commotion due to the fierce fire and gas explosions. There was nobody to attend to him,” he says.

He added: “I saw a passing ambulance and immediately carried him to it... I am surprised I did not get any injuries during the rescue,” Simiti says.

But Simiti is aggrieved that for all his efforts, he was only given a Sh1,000 reward.

Governor Wycliffe Oparanya lauded his valiant act of rescuing victims after the accident.

Normalcy has since been restored at Mukhonje.

Kenya Power Company moved the power transformer that started the inferno to a safer location, away from the busy road.

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