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Caskets bearing the remains of victims of the West Pokot mudslides and landslides. [Irissheel Shanzu, Standard]

Twenty five wooden coffins lay side by side yesterday as residents of West Pokot gathered to bid farewell to victims of a deadly landslide that hit the area three weeks ago.

The heavy rains that showered the region in the morning before the interdenominational service began were a stark reminder of the tragedy that visited Nyarkulian, Muino and Parua villages which suffered the wrath of mother nature on  November 23.

The ceremony at Makutano Stadium was delayed for hours by bad roads and swept away bridges that saw the hearses arrive late and some relatives not making it for the last rites of their loved ones. 

During the ceremony, the national government was put in a spot for its handling of the tragedy, with speakers accusing leaders of dwelling on the politics instead of  the plight of West Pokot residents.

The Government was also faulted for not fixing damaged roads and bridges, effectively cutting off some areas.

The only bridge put up by the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) has since been swept away by flood waters.

Caskets bearing 25 bodies that have been identified were brought for the interdenominational mass while another 18 are still lying at the Kapenguria County Hospital mortuary and Kitale hospital mortuary, yet to be identified.

Sixteen bodies have so far been buried at the site of the tragedy by family members who were unable to transport them to the mortuaries after the area was cut off.

The requiem mass was led by Kitale Catholic Diocese Bishop Maurice Crowley and Kapenguria Parish Anglican Church  of Kenya ( ACK) Bishop Samson Tuliapus.

Mourners cut off

However, mourners from Pokot Central Sub county could not make it to the requiem mass after close to 10 bridges connecting the entire Sigor Constituency were swept away by flash floods.

Some canceled their journeys halfway after finding the recently rehabilitated bridge at Ortum swept away by floods following heavy rains on Monday night.

Some of the family members made frantic arrangements to move their kin's bodies through longer routes that will take them to the neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet and back to West Pokot for tomorrow’s burials.

Among the mourners was Kapel Yaranyang, 43,  from Muino area who lost seven children after they were swept  by the raging waters. However, only three bodies of his children were recovered.Four  are still missing.

The three bodies of his children were preserved at Kitale Referral Hospital morgue.

Yaranyang, who arrived late for the requiem mass, said he travelled to Kitale to see the bodies and found that the caskets were too small.

“I had to look for alternative caskets at a workshop to fit the bodies, that is why I was late for the mass. The clothes and shoes were also too small,” he said.

He said it has been challenging to organise for the children's burials.

“I will have to go all the way through Elgeyo Marakwet County, connect from there to Lomut then to Muino so that the three bodies can reach home for burial. The long route will see us travel overnight,” he said.

He appealed to the Government to help him recover the four remaining bodies.

“How will I conduct  a funeral for my three children and leave out the other four?  What am I burying on behalf of the four bodies?” he queried.

He said he cannot continue keeping the three bodies at the morgue to await the finding of the other four.

"I want to forget about this tragedy and start a new beginning. The bodies keeps on reminding me of the horrific night.  The burials will ease the burden," he said.

Leaders who attended the service appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare floods and landslides a national disaster.

They criticised the State for its poor handling of the humanitarian crisis.

Cabinet Secretary (CS) Eugene Wamalwa who represented the State said the Government will ensure affected families are resettled within the shortest  time noting floods have affected 30 counties.

He encouraged governors to set aside resources for disaster management to curb deaths in future.

“Complaints have been raised by leaders and I will inform the president to visit West Pokot county and condole with affected families,” he said.

He promised that the Government would build modern houses for displaced families on safer grounds.

Wamalwa assured families whose kin's bodies have not been recovered that government agencies would not give up the search.

Neglected residents

Governor John Lonyangapuo accused the national government of neglecting residents of West Pokot after the calamity.

“The Government should hear our cry, KeNHA repaired the bridge at Ortum, but right now the bridge has been swept away,” he said.

Tiaty MP William Kamket said the president should declare floods a national disaster.

In attendance were David Pkosing (Pokot South), Mark Lomunokol (Kachelipa) Samuel Moroto (Kapenguria), Peter Lochakapong (Sigor), Lilian Tomitom (Woman Representative), PS Micah Powon, and CAS Simon Kachapin.

Pkosing read the president's speech and acknowledged Uhuru’s contribution of Sh1 million to support the flooding victims.

West Pokot mudslides and landslides Governor John Lonyangapuo
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