Kenya Dam Collapse Survivors Worry Other Dams Could Burst

Rael Ombuor

NAIROBI — More than 40 people were killed after a dam burst Wednesday night in Kenya's Rift Valley and many others are still missing following heavy rains. Authorities say the dam was built illegally on private land, and residents fear other dams built without permission could also collapse.

The dam, known by locals as the Patel dam, was one of seven in the Solai area of Nakuru Town located on a private farm. It broke open Wednesday night, sweeping away hundreds of homes, according to officials.

Search efforts continued Friday, with rescue workers hoping to find survivors trapped in the mud and debris.

James Kimani barely escaped death when the dam burst on Wednesday. He said he carried two people on his motorbike.

"Both of them were swept away," he said. "They died but I managed to hang on to a tree. When I reached home, I found that everything and everyone had been carried away."

Local villagers blamed the tragedy on negligence, saying they had complained to authorities that the dam was leaking.

The director of public prosecutions has directed police to establish the "cause and culpability if any" of Wednesday's disaster and give him the results of the investigation within 14 days.

And Kenya's Water Resources Management Authority, which regulates private dams, said Friday the Patel Dam and the other dams on the property did not have the required permits.

Solai resident Hellen Wanjiru said the remaining dams still present a danger.

"There are so many dams around these area, and they will continue to cause more damage, she said. "This man has built a lot of dams, and these dams are starting to fall apart. Where do they want us to go?"

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i visited the scene Thursday and said the government was taking steps to determine the stability of the other six dams.

"We have lost a lot of lives here, and this is very tragic," he said. "This is now not time to waste any minute on anything."

Noellah Namulanda, communications manager of the Kenya Red Cross, told VOA the death toll of the Solai tragedy stood at 42 and could still rise. The Red Cross is trying to help the survivors.

"The most crucial thing is to try help them recover from this, so we are putting up temporary shelters," she said. "We are also doing psycho-social support to families and the community. We are also involved in the search and rescue."

Namulanda added that the Red Cross is evacuation services and giving first aid services on site — "something at least to help them get back on their feet in the interim as we look for long term solutions."

Weeks of torrential rain have caused flooding and mudslides across Kenya. The downpours that began in March have left close to 200 people dead.

Government statistics released Wednesday showed that more than 220,000 people have been displaced by flooding.