56 dead in yet another familiar script of anguish

A granny says a prayer to a survivor of bus belonging to Home boys at Fort Ternan hospital in Kericho County on October 10,2018. [Denish Ochieng, Standard)
Yesterday's crash that left 56 people dead brought back a familiar tale of pain, negligence and impunity on Kenyan roads.

Even the shell of the bus that was shredded by the impact of the crash and that lay in an open field strewn with luggage, twisted metal and bodies had a sense of deja vu.

The reactions too, had a ring of familiarity: Official condolences, promises of stern action, and silence.

Dozens of kilometres away, survivors of the dawn accident that occurred at Tunnel on the Muhoroni-Londiani highway recounted their ordeal.

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Still in shock, many spoke of their pleas to the bus driver to slow down on a journey that appeared to have been doomed from the start.

Others sank to their knees in prayer, thankful to have survived through a last-minute change of travel plans.

Friends and relatives searched frantically for their loved ones at the accident scene, hospitals and morgues.

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For the rest of the nation, life moved on, with leaders sending the now familiar messages of condolences and authorities repeating the even more familiar pledge to take action against anyone found culpable.

Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) Regional Director Isaiah Onsongo blamed the accident on the driver's failure to observe road signs.

The bus named 'Home Boyz' is owned by Western Cross Express Company Ltd and was heading to Kakamega from Nairobi.

Police reports indicate the 62-seater bus was carrying 71 passengers.

Police, first responders and residents who rushed to the scene of the crash said they found trapped passengers screaming inside the mangled wreck.

Lost control

Kericho County Police Commander James Mugera said the accident could have occurred when the driver lost control of the vehicle.

The bus is said to have hit metal guardrails that lined the highway before rolling several times down a slope.

Those who died on the spot were 31 men, 12 women and seven children. Others died in hosital.

“The accident involved a passenger vehicle that was heading to Western (region) from Nairobi. According to preliminary findings, the driver lost control and drove into a ditch, killing 50 people on the spot,” said Mr Mugera.

For hours, mutilated bodies lay in pools of blood at the crash scene. Residents said the accident was the worst they had seen in the area.

Police joined hands with first responders to tear through the wreckage and retrieve bodies that were stuck between seats.

An earth-mover was also brought in to help remove the wreckage. The body of a two-year-old boy was found trapped underneath the bus.

Personal belongings including travel bags, utensils, crates of soft drinks, a flask and food items were strewn at the scene of accident, some soaked in blood.

Wilson Rop, among first to arrive at the scene, said he heard a loud bang at around 5am, and people screaming.

He said by the time he reached the scene, most of the passengers were already dead. He then joined other responders in searching for survivors among the bodies.

"I found two children aged between three and four, but one died while getting first aid. I watched him breathe his last,” said Mr Rop.

Residents said the area is a notorious black spot.

"We have witnessed fatal accidents on this road almost daily, but the most notorious place is the Tunnel area” said Catherine Chepkurui.

The spot is called Tunnel due to its proximity to a railway line tunnel. For the crash survivors, it is a tunnel of pain.

At the Fort Ternan Hospital, Rose Uashu is fighting for her life. Weak from excessive bleeding, she slips in and out of a coma.

Casualty area

Inside a ward next to the casualty area, Roselyne Vihende is covered in blood, moaning weakly and gasping for air.

She was in the bus with her three-month-old child. The boy was not among those who were rushed to the hospital.

Another survivor, registered in the casualty book as Katry Olimo, is still searching for her one-year-old child.

Joseph Obonyo from Luanda, Vihiga County, is among those lucky to be alive and one of the few survivors strong enough to recount the horror that the passengers experienced.

The 52-year-old father of five who lives with his family in Nairobi was heading upcountry to meet his family and prepare to build a house.

Although badly bruised and with a fractured limb, he could still remember the journey from Nairobi and its tragic end.

He said trouble started when the bus made a U-turn about 10km from the Machakos Country Bus stage to fetch more passengers.

“We were already leaving Nairobi when the operators said there were more passengers at the stage, so they turned back for them,” he narrated.

The additional passengers, he said, had paid to travel in another bus but were transferred to the already full vehicle.

According to Mr Obonyo, although the addition of more passengers and luggage was met with protests from both those being transferred and those already seated in the bus, the operators were adamant about squeezing more people into the bus.

“We protested and demanded our money back but they refused and became hostile, threatening to leave behind anyone who was giving them trouble,” he said.

Obonyo claimed that the four conductors manning the bus pulled soda crates and turned them into seats in the aisle. They also forced some passengers to share seats before the bus left Nairobi at around midnight.

Obonyo said signs that all was not well showed as soon as they hit the road. The driver was speeding but protests against his recklessness were met with insults from the conductors.

“They also refused to make any stops even after some passengers requested to use the bathroom,” he said.

Throughout the journey, he said, he could feel the bus wobbling.

“About 30 metres from where the bus flew off the road, the wobbling became intense and we swerved from side to side. The next moment I heard a loud bang as we veered off the road. I woke up in hospital."

Another survivor

Another survivor, Wycliffe Ongole, was rescued after he raised his arm from under a seat where he was trapped.

Fancy Korir, a senior nurse at Fort Ternan Dispensary, said they were called to work at 4.40am and immediately dispatched to rescue survivors.

Ms Korir said 15 people with varying degrees of serious injuries were rushed to the facility, about 300 metres from the scene before they were referred to Kericho and Muhoroni hospitals.

A six-year -old boy died on arrival at the dispensary.

 “We stabilised and cleared all the 15 victims for referral to Kericho and Muhoroni because they all had injuries that are beyond us,” she told The Standard.

Three of those referred to Muhoroni died shortly after arrival while four others were further referred to Kisumu’s Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital, where one woman died on arrival.

Hospital Chief Executive Officer Peter Okoth said by 2:30pm yesterday they had received eight survivors in critical condition.

Five of them were admitted in the high dependency unit.

At the Kericho County morgue, emotions ran high as friends and relatives flocked to view bodies of their loved ones.

Police officers and mortuary attendants had a difficult time controlling wailing relatives and friends who queued awaiting their turn to view the bodies.

The Standard established that the mortuary has a capacity of 16 bodies. But 52 bodies were received at the small mortuary built decades ago.

Due to the size of the morgue, only five people were allowed in at a time.

By yesterday afternoon, relatives looking for their loved ones had jammed an office shared by both Climax and Home Boyz buses in Kakamega town.

Two women from Bulimbuli Lusomo village in Shinyalu sub-county were among the survivors. Susan Misse, 37, and her younger sister Linda, 27, suffered broken legs.

[Story by Nikko Tanui, Mercy Kahenda, Julius Chepkwony, Dalton Nyabundi, Felix Odhiambo, Nathan Ochunge and Stanley Ongwae]

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