New Year misery as floods ravage the country

A family salvages some of their property in Ombeyi village in Ahero on Sunday. [Photo: Collins Oduor/Standard]

By Standard Team

As Kenyans usher in the New Year on Tuesday, two women are feared dead and 250 people have been displaced after landslides struck West Pokot County.

Unconfirmed reports by area residents indicated three more people were buried in mudslides in the area bringing the number of those killed to 15.

Kenya Red Cross communications manager Nelly Muluka said they evacuated four people from the area on Saturday.

At the same time over 300 families fled their homes after Nyando and Sondu rivers burst their banks following the ongoing heavy rains in Nyakach and Nyando districts. They were forced to leave to escape raging flood waters.

The most affected locations are Nyakach North, Rangul and Nyalunya. In Nyando, Ayweyo, Ogwedhi, Ombeyi, Kachogo, Okana, Kadhiabo, Kathoo and Kanyamtende are submerged in water.

The floods followed heavy rains pounding Kericho, Kisi, Nandi and Bureti Districts. Several houses were partially or completely destroyed.

Kenya Red Cross, Western Region assistant secretary, Mr Emmanuel Owako said they had to move most families to higher ground for their safety. Some of those affected were placed with relatives while others are camping at evacuation centres in Kogalo, Achuodho and Osembe Primary School.

Owako said they had issued mosquito nets, drugs, blankets and tents to the victims with the priority being those whose houses had been completely been destroyed. Locals said their properties such as utensils and animals were swept off by the roaring River Nyando which.

A victim, Mr Kennedy Ochieng, said he had to come from Migori after getting a distress call from a relative that his house was swept away. “I came back only to find my household goods soaked in water,” said Ochieng. He said he was moving the few goods he had left to a relative’s house as he waits for the water to subside.

Nyakach MP Ochieng Daima and his Nyando counterpart Fred Outa said they had communicated to the Ministry of Special Programmes, World Vision and Kenya Red Cross, and are awaiting their response.

Evacuation centres

“The rains are going on and it is important for those still in their homes to closely monitor the situation or move to higher grounds in evacuation centres such as Miruka Primary School,” Daima said. Outa said the Government should give victims food, drugs and other basic necessities to sustain them until the waters subside.

A proposal made eight years ago for building of dykes in the region to avert floods by channeling the water to well-constructed drainage system has never been implemented.

Muhoroni MP Ayiecho Olweny, however, blamed some of the locals for their plight, saying they had cultivated rice fields near their homes instead of in allocated paddy fields.

Olweny claimed residents were given Constituency Development Fund (CDF) money to dig drainages. Ahero resident, Ms Caroline Achieng, said her goats were swept away on Saturday, adding that her two children were now staying with a relative.

Huge snakes

“It is good the waters came in during the day. It could have been a disaster if the river burst its banks at night,” she said. Florence Odhiambo who is currently camping at Osembe Primary School, said she was forced to leave her home in a hurry due to huge snakes that had been swept by the waters into her house.

And residents of Elgeyo Marakwet County have been urged to move to safer grounds until the ongoing rains pounding the region subsides.

Local County Commissioner Mohamed Birik singled out the unsafe areas as Embobut, Embolot, Endo, Embomon and Enou in Marakwet East district, Cheborarwa in Marakwet West, Siroch and Anin in Keiyo North and Kocholwo, Sogom and Toroplong’on in Keiyo South.

“Many people live along the escarpment and hanging valleys which exposes them to grave danger in the event of mudslides,” said Birik.

He blamed cultivation of the escarpment for the tragedy, saying it weakened the soil. “We are making recommendations to the Government. Among them is converting the hanging valleys into water catchment areas and resettling the residents living there elsewhere to ensure no life is lost anymore as a result of the mudslides,” he said.

 Keiyo South MP Jackson Kiptanui called on the Government to fast track the relocation of people living in landslide areas. “In Keiyo South alone over 1,000 households are living in mudslide prone areas and the Government should find alternative land as a matter of urgency so that loss of life is averted,” said the MP.

Over 60 households affected by the Friday mudslide are camping at various schools in the district and have received aid from the Kenya Red Cross, Special Programmes Ministry and other well wishers.

Torrential rain has buffeted many parts of the country since last week, damaging roads and bridges and causing untold suffering. In West Pokot, pastoralists lost up to 14 of their animals when the River Wei Wei burst its banks and swept them away.

Slippery terrain

Rift Valley Provincial Police Officer (PPO) John M’Mbijiwe who led an aerial rescue team to the area said many homesteads were also swept away by raging storm waters.

He said it was difficult for the rescue team to access the area due to muddy and slippery terrain coupled with the ongoing rains. “As at now we can only confirm that two women are missing and are feared dead, although we still investigating whether there are other casualties,” said the PPO.

Speaking to The Standard on the telephone, he said the 250 displaced families have been moved to safer grounds as humanitarian crisis broke out in the area. He added: “We have advised families to stay away from hanging cliffs until the rains subside to salvage whatever remains after the destruction.”