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Night of horror and destruction leaves 37 dead, more hurt : The Standard

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A petrol tanker hangs dangerously on Sabit bridge that was destroyed by floods along Kapenguria-Lowar highway, South Pokot County, yesterday. Landslides left trail of death and destruction in three villages in West Pokot County. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

The first sound they heard on Friday night some minutes to midnight rose slightly above the constant drumming of raindrops on their iron sheet roofs.

It was a faint, distant rumble. Unknown to them, danger was closer than they could ever imagine and soon, it felt like the ground on which their houses stood on, on which their children had placed their heads to sleep that night was moving.
They were not mistaken. In a span of five hours, ground the size of several football fields had shifted and flood waters whose waves stood feet high left deadly results.
By the time day broke, almost entire villages had been swept away. Thirty seven people were confirmed dead by yesterday evening, and more were feared buried in the mud, according to the County Commissioner Apollo Okello.
SEE ALSO :Four injured in clash over sacked church pastorIn some instances, families were buried alive in one of the worst landslides and flooding disasters ever recorded in the country. In Muino, 17 people were swept by floods following a heavy downpour. So fierce was nature that a body was recovered about 7km downstream.
Survivors who spoke to the Sunday Standard painted a picture of desperate villagers whose rescue efforts to recover bodies of their loved ones on Friday night when landslides hit after hours of heavy downpour.
Interviews with the victims said the landslide hit the villages between 11pm and 4am on Saturday morning.
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Raphael Pkolowo, a survivor, said a landslide of such magnitude has never been experienced in the region. His family was buried alive as he tried to rescue them under the cover of darkness after the disaster struck Nyarkulian village.
Mr Pkolowo narrated that it was raining heavily at Nyarkulian trading centre before he headed home at around 11pm after receiving a call that the landslide had hit his village and some of his family members had been buried alive.
SEE ALSO :Man, 28, jailed for 17 years for defiling own sonStranded
“Everything was buried under the earth and when I checked on the neighbourhood, houses were also buried. It was shocking. I did not know where to start,” he said.
That was not all, more horror awaited Pkolowo.
“I saw four people buried alive. We were helpless as the mudslide buried my father, mother and my two brothers. We managed to rescue one of my children. It was a painful experience,” he said.
The first people who responded came face to face with the horror that only nature can mete out.
SEE ALSO :Schools closed as county enforces Magoha orderTop government officials and local leaders who arrived at Sepit, where sections of the Kapenguria-Lodwar highway had been washed away, were stranded for the better part of yesterday and helplessly watched the scene of the landslide–Nyarkulian, some 10km away.
Entire roads have been cut out. Where paths to the villages once stood now lies a mixture of sludge, dredge and a sprinkling of tree trunks from decades-old trees broken down by the force of the landslide to resemble tonnes of blocks of firewood. Animal carcasses littered the landscape.
Pockets of roofing timber and corners of iron sheets poked out of the red-coloured mud. Eight-foot trees were uprooted and flung off like blades of grass. Where boulders once stood, only gaping holes were left. A once hilly landscape was now flat. Underneath the leveled up ground, lay lives snuffed out in the dead of the dark night.
The loss of life in these villages has been immense. It will take generations to recover from the heartache, and even then, even the least violent movements of the earth will trigger tears in the eyes of survivors.
The destroyed roads, bridges, and schools a constant reminder of what life once was. A reminder of the promise held by all those who perished.
SEE ALSO :Man goes berserk, chops off wife’s handAnd then there is the uncertainty. By the time we went to press, dozens of families were still searching for their loved ones.
As darkness fast approached, they held on to the hope that a relative would walk out of the night alive and well and allay their fears of having to organise a funeral for a family member. However, with each passing hour, hope faded into despair.
Despair turned into desperation. And desperation turned into surrender. Surrender to whatever fate has in store.
“Some people are still missing and we fear they are dead,” Nicholas Kibet, a resident of Muruny said.
Fanning the embers of hope was a presidential directive.
“I have directed the deployment of resources including rescue personnel from our various security and humanitarian agencies covering the Kenya Defence Forces, the National Police Service and Special Programmes to the affected region so as to mitigate against further loss of lives. The operation will continue round the clock until the situation normalizes,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said yesterday. 
This batch of responders, dispatched from various places in the country found it hard to actualise the president’s orders.
There was no through road to the site. So the heavily loaded trucks pitched camp at Sepit trading centre. There was no ground stable enough for the choppers to land. A police helicopter circled the affected area as villagers looked up to them for hope and then doubled back.
For the moment, rescue efforts remained rudimentary. Men, women and children used their hands to dig out friends and family from under the weight of the muddy rubble.
Trapped in the rubble
As day broke, hearts became heavier with the news of the death of two babies. Their tiny silhouettes contouring the blanket that was wrapped around them when they went to bed.
When it came knocking, death didn’t stop. It was relentless.
In Muino location in Pokot Central, a family of seven was swept away.
A mother and father had left their house to attend a night crusade and upon their return in the morning, they found their seven children swept away by the landslide.
“We have recovered one body of a female adult at the banks of river Weiwei. Her eyes are gorged out and it seems her body was swept for kilometres,” Deputy County Commissioner Were Simiyuh said.
He added that close to five families were swept away by floods and efforts to recover their bodies are ongoing.
The County Commissioner said rescue and recovery efforts were ongoing but heavy rains had slowed down the exercise.
He believes more people might have been trapped in the rubble and the number of casualties could increase.
“We are struggling to reach most affected regions, which were rendered inaccessible. The numbers of the affected might shoot up because some are still missing,” Mr Okello said.
Then there were the injured who were taken to Kapenguria County Hospital.
West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo appealed for more help.
“We need help because the situation is now getting out of hand, the road linking Kitale-Lodwar is cut off completely,” he said.
As the residents wait for help, the rain continues to come down. Hard. Causing fears of a repeat occurrence.
And there has been mourning.
“My thoughts and prayers, and those of our entire nation are with families, friends and relatives of those who lost their beloved ones in the unfortunate incident. Please accept my heartfelt condolences,” President Kenyatta said.

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Related Topics
West Pokot CountyLandslidesJohn Lonyangapuo



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