Kenya: Poor conditions hinder mudslide recovery effort

NAIROBI, 14 August 2007 (IRIN) - Efforts to recover the bodies of the mudslide victims in a western Kenya village have been slowed down by rainfall and fast-flowing sludge, rescuers said.

"It has been slow because the ground is still very soggy and it is raining," Major Mwange wa Musau of the National Disaster Operations Centre told IRIN on 14 August. "There is the risk of rescuers being trapped in the fast-flowing mud."

He said five bodies had been recovered from the debris of homes flattened and buried by mud in Khusavali village, Kakamega North District, in the early hours of 11 August. Musau said local officials had established that four people remained unaccounted for and were presumed dead. Initial reports had said up to 13 people were missing.

Some 100 rescuers from the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) and the National Youth Service were involved in the recovery effort and were mainly using shovels to search through the mud. Four earth movers were taken to the site, but the ground was too soft to use them.

"Shovels are the most appropriate equipment now. Heavy machines are not very desirable," said Musau.

Anthony Mwangi, KRCS public relations manager, also said the search efforts were risky. "Rescuers have to be very cautious because the mud keeps flowing," he said.

Some media reports have criticised the government for what has been described as a "lacklustre" response to the tragedy.

"Kenya lacks a disaster preparedness mechanism. But leaders should at least soothe the afflicted by showing empathy and demonstrating that they care," wrote the Kenya Times newspaper in its 14 August editorial.

KRCS supplied blankets, cooking utensils, tarpaulins, jerry cans and soap to the 14 families who were evacuated from their homes in the village. The government also supplied food and tents to those affected, said Musau.