At least 45 people died when a dam burst its banks near a town in Kenya’s Rift Valley, police said on Monday, as torrential rains and floods battered the country.

The disaster raises the total death toll over the March-May wet season in Kenya to more than 120 as heavier than usual rainfall pounds East Africa, compounded by the El Nino weather pattern.

Residents said the accident occurred in the dead of night near Mai Mahiu, in Nakuru county, sending water gushing down a hill and engulfing everything in its path.

The deluge cut off a road, uprooted trees, washed away homes and sent vehicles flying.

“Forty-five bodies have been recovered from that dam tragedy as at now, and the team on the ground is overwhelmed but the search is still ongoing,” a senior officer at Nakuru County police headquarters told AFP by phone.

Nakuru governor Susan Kihika had earlier put the death toll at 42.

“It’s a conservative estimate. There are still more in the mud, we are working on recovery,” she told AFP.

Rescuers were digging through the debris, using hoes and in some cases just their bare hands in a desperate search for survivors.

Stephen Njihia Njoroge, a local resident involved in the emergency efforts, said 12 people had been pulled to safety since 4:00 am (0100 GMT).

But for many, it was too late.

“We collected some of the bodies held by trees and we don’t know how many are under the mud,” he told AFP.


– ‘Risky behaviour’ –


Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said the government had directed security and intelligence officials to “inspect all public and private dams and water reservoirs in their jurisdictions within 24 hours… (and) recommend cases (for) compulsory evacuation and temporary resettlement”.

He also said on X that the authorities would arrest people engaging in “risky behaviour”, including motorists attempting dangerous crossings and anyone seeking to transport “passengers across flooded rivers or storm water by unsafe canoes or boats”.

His comments came after a boat packed with people capsized at the weekend in flooded Tana River county in eastern Kenya, with the Kenya Red Cross saying it had retrieved two bodies and rescued 23 others.

Video footage shared online and  on television showed the crowded boat sinking, with people screaming as onlookers watched in horror.

On Saturday, officials said 76 people had lost their lives in Kenya since March, with over 130,000 displaced.

Schools have been forced to remain shut following mid-term holidays, after the education ministry announced Monday it would postpone their reopening to May 6 due to “ongoing heavy rains”.

“The devastating effects of the rains in some of the schools is so severe that it will be imprudent to risk the lives of learners and staff before water-tight measures are put in place to ensure adequate safety,” Education Minister Ezekiel Machogu said.


– Turmoil across the region –


The monsoons have also wreaked havoc in neighbouring Tanzania, where at least 155 people have been killed in flooding and landslides.

In Burundi, one of the world’s poorest countries, around 96,000 people have been displaced by months of relentless rains, the United Nations and the government said earlier this month.

Uganda has also suffered heavy storms that have caused riverbanks to burst, with two deaths confirmed and several hundred villagers displaced.

Monday’s dam disaster comes six years after a similar accident at Solai, also in Nakuru county, killed 48 people, sending millions of litres of muddy waters raging through homes and destroying power lines.

The May 2018 disaster involving a private reservoir on a coffee estate also followed weeks of torrential rains that sparked deadly floods and mudslides.

El Nino is a naturally occurring climate pattern typically associated with increased heat worldwide, leading to drought in some parts of the world and heavy rains elsewhere.

Late last year, more than 300 people died in rains and floods in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, just as the region was trying to recover from its worst drought in four decades that left millions of people hungry.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said in March that the latest El Nino is one of the five strongest ever recorded.

© Agence France-Presse


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