Fourteen pupils of Kakamega Primary School have died today evening following in a stampede at their school.
The tragedy that took place on the third floor of the five-storey building left one pupil admitted at the Kakamega Referral Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), two in critical condition with 39 others nursing injuries.
The 5.30pm tragedy occurred when the pupils, most of whom are in Grade Six, were leaving for home.
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At the school, parents, relatives and the public gathered in small groups desperately seeking to know the whereabouts of their children.
Shocked parents fought back tears as reality dawned on them that their children may be among the dead.
Those that confirmed the news simply crumpled in grief, wailing and seeking answers from the heavens on how what began as any normal school day could end in unimaginable grief.
Some of the pupils said the tragedy happened when one of them who was leading others downstairs tried to block her colleagues mid-way along the staircase on the third floor.
A pupil sais her colleagues pushed back to force their way down the stairs and in the process piled up on each other.
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“Five other pupils who were behind her fell on each other as they pushed,” said a Grade Six survivor.
The stampede at the narrow staircase was made worse when other pupils responded to the screams of their colleagues, pushing and shoving each other and in the process falling over each another.
"I was going downstairs after classes when I heard some boys behind me playfully push each other. It is something they often do. In no time, however, a commotion ensued and some of those who were on the staircase fell off others. I lost my footing when pushed and other students fell on top of me.
"I remained pinned down until help came from boda boda operators nearby. I was hurt on the leg but was lucky to have been taken to a nearby clinic where I was treated and discharged. There was no teacher beating students as had been alleged," said Alphaville Keng'ore, a Grade 5 pupil.
Keng'ore was disputing claims that a teacher was behind the scare that caused the stampede.
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At the Kakamega Referral hospital, two pupils were said to be admitted at the ICU in critical condition.
These details could however not be independently verified as the hospital was yet to give an update.
By the time of going to press distraught parents still thronged the hospital seeking to know the whereabouts of their children.
Others crowded around the hospital's mortuary to try and identify their children's bodies but were not allowed in.
Outside, the town virtually came to a standstill in the evening traffic as residents surged towards the hospital as news of the tragedy began to filter out.
A sombre mood engulfed the hospital where nurses and clinical officers worked overtime to attend to the injured children. Matters were worsened by the fact that doctors in the county had been away from public hospitals for three days and were to resume duty today after calling off their strike yesterday.
Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya arrived at the hospital at about 7.30pm to asses the situation and left 30 minutes after.
Senator Cleophas Malala, Lurambi MP Titus Kahamala, former ACK Maseno North Bishop Simon Oketch and several MCAs also visited the injured pupils aged between four and 12.
Others were Regional commissioner Anne Ng'etich, Regional Police Commander Peris Kimani, county police commander Bernard Muli and Regional Education officer Steven Barongo were also there.
Most children suffered chest injuries. Three students had broken legs.
Kakamega Primary School, located at the heart of Kakamega town, is home to more than 3,000 pupils.
Some of the injured were rushed to Nala Nursing and Maternity Hospital where one pupil was pronounced dead on arrival.
Police and medics at the Kakamega Referral Hospital had a rough time trying to contain parents and relatives who had not been able to ascertain the condition and whereabouts of their children.
Kakamega Central OCPD David Kabena said an initial investigation had revealed that the pupils were rushing home after the bell rang.
“The information I have as of now is that the pupils were pushing their way down the stairs when they fell on each other. More others who were rushing to see what was happening ended up causing a stampede,” he said.
The school compound was full of activity as parents and relatives walked in and out of the school seeking answers of what might have happened. However, there was no official of the school to give answers.
Last year, a survey following the death of eight pupils at the Precious Talents Academy in Dagoretti after a classroom collapsed warned about poor levels of disaster preparedness in schools.
The report by the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) indicted the management of a majority of schools as they are not aware of the prescribed safety standards.
Many teachers and learners are not aware of the schools safety precautions, stated the report, dubbed Status of Education in Kenya: An Audit of Infrastructure and Financing from a Safety Standards Perspective.
It arose from a survey commissioned weeks after the Ministry of Education ordered closure of unsafe institutions noted only half of the sampled schools had inducted teachers and learners on safety guidelines.
The audit covered 213 schools spread across 21 counties. Out of these, 72 per cent (153) were secondary, 22 per cent (46) primary, six per cent (12) were special schools and one per cent (1) tertiary.
Counties of Meru, Vihiga, Taita Taveta, Isiolo, Tharaka Nithi, Makueni, Nyandarua, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Muranga, Samburu, Uasin Gishu and Elgeyo Marakwet were covered. Others were Laikipia, Kericho, Busia, Siaya, Homa Bay, Migori, Nairobi and Embu.
The ministry’s schools safety manual demands that schools managements/boards should create mechanisms and procedures that ensure stakeholders are conversant with measures needed to prevent disasters and steps required to reduce the impact.
In a majority of schools, the guidelines seem to have been ignored as the report indicts schools management and accuses them of bungling students’ safety by not instituting necessary measures to shield learners from risks.
The report recommended a review and harmonisation of all policy instruments and guidelines relating to safety, security and disaster management in the education sector.
“Training on safety should target trainee teachers in colleges and those who have already been posted and adequate resourcing for the Quality Assurance and Standards department to address issues of safety in schools,” reads the report.