At 3.30pm on Sunday, families and friends bade their kin farewell. Their destination was hundreds of kilometres from Meru County and for different purposes.
Inside the bus, parents cradled their toddlers, others listened to music or scrolled through their phones, as the Modern Coast bus weaved through traffic in Meru town on its way to Mombasa.
Fifty kilometres later, 24 of the 39 passengers lay dead on the bank of the Nithi river; 10 others would succumb while receiving treatment in various hospitals. The driver and passengers plunged to death.
Sabina Mulwa, 70, and her sister-in-law Margaret Kariri, 55, left their home at Michii Mikuru and boarded the ill-fated bus. They were on their way to attend a wedding in Mombasa. The two died in the crash.
They were accompanied by Samuel Thuranira, Kariri’s son, who survived and is at Chuka hospital. Yesterday, Sabina’s son George Kalera said the family was devastated.
“We have been dealt a devastating blow. We have always feared going across the bridge, but this was one of the worst accidents to happen at Nithi,” said Kalera.
Rajab Marete was yet to come to terms with the toll the accident had taken on the family. She lost a cousin and a few neighbours. “We are greatly saddened. It is a big tragedy.”
The Modern Coast bus from Maua town, through Meru and Nkubu, that was bound for Mombasa, plunged into the River Nithi in Tharaka Nithi on Sunday evening, causing 34 deaths as at yesterday.
Administration, security and road safety officials believe the driver, identified as Paul Muruthi Nyarua, alias Simba, was speeding and lost control of the bus, ripping off the guardrails and plunging into the river.
Simba’s widow, however, blamed the accident on mechanical failure she claimed her husband had complained about.
The accident reverberated to almost all corners of the country.
A family in Kilifi that was celebrating their daughter’s new appointment is now in mourning following her death while on a trip to pick her appointment letter.
Dr Mary Mwandisha died on her way to pick up her appointment letter after securing a county job with the County Government of Taita Taveta.
The 29-year-old was working at life care hospital in Meru on a contract basis until her demise.
A man of European descent, two girls, a polytechnic student on his way to see his family back in Mombasa, were some of those whose lives were cut short by the accident.
Josiah Mucoki was on his way back to Embu, where he worked as a salesman for a mobile phone company.
The 25-year-old had just visited a mobile shop he owned in the town and once satisfied things were moving smoothly, hopped into the bus for a ride back to Embu, where he lived.
His older brother Charles Wambugu was yesterday visibly suppressing tears as he came to terms with the loss the family had suffered.
“He was the last born. He was a hard-working young man trying to make ends meet. I cannot imagine he is gone,” said Wambugu.
According to a Modern Coast agent, who identified himself as Solomon Wafula, the bus left its Maua town office at 3.30pm. “Its full capacity is 44. It had 39 passengers and was to pick some other passengers on the way,” the agent said.
Chuka Base Commander Phillip Ekagoro said 24 victims died on the spot from impact of the steep plunge.
Mr Ekagoro said the 6.30pm accident happened after the bus hit an oncoming Nissan X-Trail, which had the driver.
“Then it hit the guard rails. It then hit the wall on the opposite side. The impact was so great it (bus) flew into river Nithi,” he said.
Japhet Kuura, the driver of the Nissan, narrated how he escaped death by a whisker, as the bus hurtled down the hill approaching the bridge.
“It was off its lane. It hit the rear part of my car and threw me aside, before it hit the guardrails. Fortunately, I had already crossed the bridge and it was not a head-on collision,” Kuura, whose car was extensively damaged but escaped with no visible injuries, told The Standard.
As a result of the accident, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) suspended the operations of Modern Coast Express Limited.
The authority, through its Director General George Njao, said in a press statement yesterday that NTSA halted the bus company’s operations with immediate effect. The suspension will affect all its 31 buses.
“Following a fatal traffic crash that occurred on Sunday, 24th July this year, at the Nithi Bridge in Tharaka Nithi County, that has since claimed the lives of 33 passengers, NTSA hereby halts the operations of Modern Coast Express Limited,” the statement read.
As a result, passengers who had booked to travel with the bus company were yesterday offered alternative means.
Yesterday two buses belonging to Dreamliner Company arrived at the Modern Coast bus yard to pick up passengers destined for up-country.
While giving an account of what happened, the administrators yesterday urged drivers to be extra careful at the black spot.
Eastern Regional Commissioner Evans Achoki, who led a security team and Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHa) and the Kenya Red Cross team in recovery efforts, visited the survivors at Chuka hospital.
He said the bus manifest had 39 passengers. He said they would add warning signs at the black spot.
“The process of tracing and informing the families of the victims will be done in conjunction with the Red Cross and county officers,” Mr Achoki said, adding that they were in talks with KeNHa to redesign the bridge.
Police Commander Donatha Righa said: “We have discussed with KeNHa and that is one of the issues on the table now. We need to redesign this road.”