Members of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) Women’s Guild who were involved in a tragic road crash near Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania on Friday morning had planned to travel to Uganda but changed their destination due to fears of the Ebola outbreak.
A senior church official disclosed yesterday that the 84 women from six churches under the Thika parish opted to take their week-long gospel mission to Dar-es-Salaam instead of Kampala following reports of the disease outbreak which has killed 16 people in Western Uganda.
The team drawn from Kiganjo, Kimuchu, Umoja, Emmanuel, Baraka and Happy Valley churches were travelling to a sister church in Dar-es-Salaam in a convoy of two buses.
Thirteen of them were killed and 71 injured when the two buses they were travelling in were involved in an accident on the Tanga- Dar-es-Salaam Highway.
The buses belonged to Primrose Academy and the PCEA Elijah Kagiri School.
The accident occurred hours after the convoy left Thika on Thursday morning.
A trailer reportedly rammed one of the buses as it stopped to help rescue colleagues in the second bus which had been involved in another accident on Mandela Bridge in Chelinze area around 5 a.m.
Some of the victims were trapped in the wreckage for hours amid claims that Tanzanian authorities took too long to respond.
Those who perished had not yet been identified by time of going to press.
The moderator of the Thika Presbytery, The Rev Stephen Wainaina, said that parishioners in the ill-fated buses included officials of the women’s guild and the wives of two Thika municipal council civic leaders.
The Happy Valley parish minister, The Rev Florence Karanja, who was also on the mission, was said to be safe.
President Kibaki ordered the military to evacuate the injured to Nairobi for treatment.
Shortly after, the Kenya Air Force dispatched two aircraft, a Buffalo transport plane and a Dash 8, usually used for VIP transport, to execute the President’s order.
President Kibaki also sent a message of condolence to the families of those who died and wished the injured quick recovery. Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta also wished the injured a quick recovery.
Briefing reporters at the parish headquarters in Landless Estate, The Rev Wainaina said initially the women were destined for Uganda on a similar mission but the tour was cancelled following the outbreak of the dreaded Ebola disease in that country.
During an emotional service at the parish headquarters on Friday some of the faithful, overcome by grief, collapsed and had to be assisted by Red Cross volunteers.
“This is such a big blow to the church. We find it hard to accept, but God is still in control and life must continue,” The Rev Wainaina said.
Makongeni ward councillor Stephen Mwangi Marubu whose wife, Catherine Nyakio, was on the trip, said he last communicated with her on the phone at midnight.
“She told me they had crossed the Kenya-Tanzania border at Namanga and were headed towards Dar-es-Salaam. But when I called her in the morning after learning of the accident the phone went unanswered and later it went off,” he told reporters at his Kiganjo home.
He said his family was still in the dark over the fate of the mother of four.
The wife of a former Thika mayor, Mr Johnston Muriuki Githaiga, reportedly survived with injuries.
The Rev Wainaina said the church had made arrangements to have the bodies of the deceased flown to Nairobi.
“We want the survivors brought back and treated here,” he said, adding that the Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCEA had already left for Tanzania.
Prayers will be conducted daily at the church.
The Rev Wainaina said they were yet to know who perished or survived adding that they had received much of the information from the media.
Tanzanian authorities earlier said seven of the women died on the spot while the others succumbed to their injuries as frantic efforts were made to clear the road and take them to nearby hospitals.
Tanzania’s Coast Region Police Commander, Mr Ernest Mango, said seven of those injured were in critical condition.
Mr Mango said the injured were treated at Msata and Chalinze health centres but were by noon moved to the Tumbi Regional Hospital in Kibaha District.
Later reports indicated that Kenyan Embassy officials had arrived from Dar-es-Salaam and arranged to have the injured moved to the Muhimbili National Referral Hospital in the city. The bodies of the deceased were also moved to the hospital.
The accident caused a traffic jam for nearly eight hours.
“The pile-up blocked the highway on both sides from 5.30 a.m. to about 12.30 p.m. when we managed to remove the wreckage and ensured smooth flow of traffic resumed,” said Mr Mango.
The busy highway serves vehicles from Dar to the cities of Arusha, Moshi and Tanga and links to Horohoro, Holili and Namanga at the border with Kenya.
The accident occurred in a village called Makole in the Coast region district of Kibaha. It is a two-hour drive from Tanga town over an estimated 120 kilometres.
Mr Mango told journalists initial reports said one of the buses in front had burst a tyre and overturned, landing in a ditch.
“The second bus passed them and made a U-turn some 500 metres away,” he said.
“The driver apparently lost control of the lorry and the brakes appeared to have failed. It hit the stationary bus and veered off, colliding head on with another lorry moving in the opposite direction,” said Mr Mango.
Wailing rent the air as villagers flocked to the scene of the accident.
The highway is notorious for accidents with a hundreds of cases reported every year.
The PCEA secretary-general, The Rev David Gathanji, told the Nation that he was flying to Tanzania with the guild organiser Veronica Muchiri
The Rev Gathanji said Kenya’s High Commissioner Mutinda Mutiso mobilised Tanzanian officials to help with rescue efforts.
Reports by Juliet Ngarabali, in Bagamoyo; Oliver Musembi in Thika, Mike Mwaniki in Nairobi; and PPS