* Flash floods near coast divert river
NAIROBI, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Floods in Kenya after heavy rains have killed 38 people and forced more than 40,000 from their homes, the Red Cross said on Thursday.
While rainfall has been minimal in many parts of east Africa's biggest economy this week, the impact of heavy downpours since December is still wreaking havoc.
Flash floods in the coastal district of Malindi on Thursday caused a river to change course and submerge 100 acres of maize crops, a staple food in Kenya, the Red Cross said.
"Livelihoods have been greatly affected and are in dire need of humanitarian aid," it said.
The arid northern region of Turkana, which has been suffering from drought, was badly hit. The Red Cross said 8 people had died and nearly 5,000 households were uprooted by floods.
The heavy rains have been blamed on El Nino weather patterns across east Africa and are a mixed blessing for Kenya which is emerging from one of the worst spells of drought in years.
El Nino, which means "little boy" in Spanish, is driven by abnormal warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean and can have a major influence on global weather.
The drought in Kenya hit production of key agricultural crops such as tea, driving prices to record highs amid a global shortfall in supply from key producers.
Water levels at dams fell, forcing hydro power plants to shut down and power suppliers to rely on costly emergency backup generators -- in turn pushing up energy prices and contributing to a rise in inflation rates. (Reporting by David Clarke; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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