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I had to let my children die to save my life, grief-stricken Kenyan mother mourns

COUNTIES
By FRANK OTIENO AND JAMES OMORO | August 6th 2015

A mother who was caught with her two children in a sinking ship on Lake Victoria was forced to make the hardest and most painful decision of her life on Tuesday.

Lilian Awuor sits next to the bodies of her children in a police boat yesterday.

(PHOTO: TITUS MUNALA/STANDARD)

Lilian Awuor was travelling at midnight with her daughters 4-year-old Idah Anyango and Fatou Bensouda, 2, when the boat which was ferrying 23 passengers from Rhemba Island to Sori Market in Migori County, collided head-on with a small boat carrying three people.

The impact created a hole in the front of the big boat, which was carrying mainly business people transporting fish, which saw water gushing into the vessel.

The 29-year-old resident of Kano in Kisumu County who was on her way back home from Rhemba island where she had gone to visit her husband, a fisherman, held on to her two children tightly as water began to gush into the boat and as women screamed their hearts out.

She lifted them as the water level started rising inside the boat. Sadly, too much water entered the boat and the boat began to sink.

It was at this point that Awuor, who was wearing a life jacket, saw that she only two options; to cling onto the children and die together with them or to let go of them and save her own life.

"I realised that I was also going to drown if I didn't let go of their hands. The children sank and died because I could do nothing more to save them. It is so painful to watch your children die and you can't do anything to save them," said Awuor yesterday, tears rolling down her cheeks.

No words could console Awuor, who recently underwent a permanent birth control procedure, to concentrate on her four children.

Besides children, she also lost dagaa and tilapia worth Sh35,000 in the incident.

Poor visibility is suspected to have led to the head-on collision between the two vessels.

Survivors at Kiiwa Island after being rescued. (PHOTO: TITUS MUNALA/STANDARD)

The giant boat named 'Nyar Charlly Mama Yie Ojwang' carries a maximum 75 passengers, The fishermen's boat had three passengers. Residents said the collision between the vessels was akin to that of a lorry and a car on the road.

"This is a very huge boat, which sometimes carries over 150 passengers, and that's why it had this great impact on the small boat," said Joachim Ojwang', a fisherman.

"Women began screaming as water quickly swept into the boat and at that point our boat began capsizing. In fact, it was everyone for himself and God for us all," said John Ochieng, 20.

Sadly, everyone in the vessels, save for the two children, had life jackets and therefore survived the ordeal. They were all saved in about 10 minutes by a boat which was not far off when the accident happened.

Dickens Nakuti, 28, said the life jackets they wore helped to save their lives.

"I have always taken the jackets for granted until last night when I saw their importance. I actually jumped into the water and the floaters in the jacket enabled me to stay afloat until the rescue boat came for us. I must thank God for being our shield," he said.

Penina Anyango, 69, suffered a dislocated knee, which she told The Standard, was as a result of the the commotion when passengers struggled to get hold of whatever they could lay their hands on.

"I'm not sure whether it is a dislocation or fracture. It is swollen and I can't walk," she said.

Most of the survivors sustained injuries on their legs.

Anyango said she was asleep when all hell broke loose.

"Due to fatigue, I was fast asleep, and all I heard was a loud bang, followed by screams," she said.

She was also to alight at Sori Market. Despite losing everything in the accident, she thanked God that they were rescued by another boat.

"I have lost everything I had in the journey. I had bought fish worth Sh64,000 after taking a loan of Sh25,000 from a Sacco and adding it to my savings. All this is lost. I don't know how I will take care of my two grandchildren who depend on me," she said amid tears.

Homa Bay County Police Commander John Omusanga attributed the accident to poor visibility. Omusanga told the residents to avoid travelling on the lake at night before proper modalities are put in place in order to prevent such accidents.

"People are travelling on the Lake in darkness, a situation which makes it impossible for them to notice any danger ahead. We will stop journeys on the lake at night until proper modalities are put in place because that is the only way we can prevent such accidents," said Omusanga.

The commander said the bodies were taken to Homa Bay County Hospital mortuary to enable easy transportation to the bereaved family's home in Kisumu.

Although survivors were jolted by the accident, they insisted that night travel was the best option.

"The journey between Rhemba and Sori takes five hours, hence you can only transact your business successfully if you travel at night," said Ely Ooko, a survivor.

They appealed to the Government to provide speed boats for emergency response to avoid further loss of life.

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