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Lake Victoria tragedy: Eight bodies retrieved as search enters day three

NYANZA
By James Omoro | September 23rd 2021
Felix Ouma, coxswain, in his hospital bed at Homa Bay County Referral Hospital on September 22, 2021. This follows an accident which involved his boat in Lake Victoria near Pier Beach in Homa Bay town on Tuesday. Eight people have been confirmed dead. [James Omoro, Standard]

When Felix Ouma took out his boat into Lake Victoria on Tuesday evening, he never thought the journey would turn tragic, leaving eight people dead and four others missing.

Ouma was ferrying passengers from Pier Beach in Homa Bay town to Ndhuru beach in the neighbouring Mbita sub-county.

When The Standard team met him yesterday at Homa Bay County Referral Hospital where he was admitted after the accident, Ouma appeared traumatised.

He said he has never been involved in such an accident since he ventured into the business in 2016.

“I have been a coxswain for the last five years but I have never been involved in an accident of this type,” Ouma said.

Ouma, 28, said the accident was caused by strong winds that prevailed in the lake when they were sailing.

The accident occurred just about 500 meters after taking off from the shore.

“We reached a point where the wind made the boat unstable because of strong waves. But the only problem is that a number of my passengers were panicking. They moved towards one side of the boat and the boat suddenly capsized,” Ouma said.

It was then that all passengers in the boat fell into the water. Those who knew how to swim managed to float until they were rescued by an operations team. Others sunk into the water.

Since everybody was fighting for their life, Ouma got hold of a drum that was floating on the water from the boat.

He managed to swim until fishermen who rushed into the lake saved him.

“I will find it difficult to ride a boat when I recover. God knows the difficulties I went through during the incident,” he added.

In the same hospital, six victims of the accident thanked God for being alive.

Boats carrying rescue operation teams searching bodies in Lake Victoria after a boat travelling from Pier Beach in Homa Bay town to Ndhuru Beach in Mbita Sub-county capsized. [James Omoro, Standard]

Benta Aoko, a fishmonger, also narrated her ordeal.

“I lost property worth more than Sh100,000 in the incident. We appeal to the government and well-wishers to help us with financial support,” said Aoko.

Yesterday, it was revealed that the boat carried 19 people including the coxswain.

By yester-evening, the death toll had reached eight after the bodies of a three-month-old baby girl and a woman were retrieved from the lake.

The bodies of two women and a man were retrieved at midday. This is after the bodies of an elderly woman and a one-and-half-year-old child were recovered on Tuesday evening.

Homa Bay County Commissioner Moses Lilan said authorities had been able to account for 10 persons who were involved in the accident by yesterday morning.

Those accounted for are two bodies which were retrieved on Tuesday evening and eight people who had been rescued.

“Eight people who were rescued and taken to hospital are in stable conditions,” said Lilan.

He said they had put up a search and incident command center to help aid the operation.

“This center will help us get the relevant information for undertaking the exercise smoothly,” said Lilan.

The search was going on throughout the day.

Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga supported the search operation team with various items to aid the exercise.

Wanga donated 100 litres of petrol for boats, five cartons of oil, two tents for camping by the victims’ relatives and snacks and drinks for those who were undertaking the search.

“I just want to call on fellow leaders to join hands so that we support the families which have been befallen by the tragedy,” Wanga said.

The Chairman of the Lake Basin Development Odoyo Owidi told five counties surrounding Lake Victoria to set up an emergency rescue centre for helping people who get involved in lake accidents.

“The rescue centre should be complete with an air ambulance. Let leaders and government agencies come together to find a long-lasting solution for accidents in Lake Victoria,” Owidi said.

Families of the people who went missing in the incident spent the night in the cold along the lakeshore in line with Luo culture.

The culture requires a family of a person who drowns in water to stay at the lakeshore or a riverbank until the body is retrieved.

Families of those whose bodies have not been recovered will continue camping at the lakeshore until they are recovered.

“Culture requires a bereaved family to spend at the lakeshore. This is believed to enhance the retrieval process,” said Edward Abich, a fisherman.

The Kenya Red Cross Society said it was offering psychosocial support to affected families. 

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