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New bridge saves villagers from the jaws of crocodiles

Tuesday March 23 2010

The new bridge allows residents of Bombi in Malindi to cross the crocodile and hippo infested River Galana safely.  Photos/DANIEL NYASSY

The new bridge allows residents of Bombi in Malindi to cross the crocodile and hippo infested River Galana safely. Photos/DANIEL NYASSY 

By DANIEL NYASSY

A new bridge has brought joy and relief to scores of villagers in Malindi District, who have been terrorised by crocodiles for decades.

The suspension bridge across River Galana in Bombi village nearly, 100 kilometres west of Malindi Town, cost Sh20 million and it is the longest of its kind in Africa, according to its builders.

Before it was built, crocodiles had it easy, feasting on both villagers and their animals as they crossed the river. Those lucky to escape from the jaws of the reptiles still have scars on their bodies, permanent reminders of their encounters with the beasts.

However, the gloom, fear and uncertainty is quickly giving way to joy, hope and confidence among the villagers, thanks to the link project sponsored by the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and two foreign non-governmental organisations.

The 112-metre bridge is a godsend, say the residents who for decades lived with the perpetual fear of being attacked as they walked from one side of the river to the other.

“The bridge could not have come at a better time,” says 41-year-old Tabu Karisa, a crocodile attack victim.

Mrs Karisa’s right leg is still healing and is excruciatingly painful, especially when she walks for a long time. She was attacked on May 20, 2008.

“I was fetching water when an animal leaped from the water onto my leg. I struggled alone, hitting its nose with my bare hands and the empty container.

“Finally it released me but with a broken right leg,” she recalled. The mother of six, was taken to Malindi District Hospital for treatment and later transferred to the Coast General Hospital.

Mr Donald Mdzomba, Bombi Primary School headmaster, said that just before the bridge was completed in August 2009, three pupils were killed by the reptiles.

“The two boys and a girl went missing as they crossed the swollen river one morning. We only found their uniforms trapped in trees on the river bank,” he told the Nation.

Major relief

“Before that, three adults had also been killed by hippos. We found the head of one of them a few days after the attack. A mother and her baby were also attacked and eaten upstream, in the next village,” said Mr Mdzomba.

His neighbour, 50-year-old Wario Unda, also survived an attack. The list goes on and on.

The most recent incident was when a Standard Six pupil, Rehema Kahindi Mramba, was attacked by hippos just before the bridge was built last year.

“The project is a major relief to us and has changed lives in our community. We can cross the river with our livestock,” said Mr Unda.

Mr Mdzomba said when the river swells during rainy seasons, the reptiles from the nearby crocodile camp are swept downstream.

“Since they are used to being fed on meat, they become particularly dangerous when they scatter downstream,” he said.

Previously, all the pupils would be confined to school, where they were fed by the church until the floods subsided, said Mr Mdzomba.

While opening the bridge, PCEA moderator David Gathanju said the church was touched by the plight of the pupils and other residents.

Stable and strong

“With our partners, we plan to build two similar bridges at Hawe Wanje and Peta Nguo, apart from helping the community in other projects such as agriculture and health,” said the moderator.

Mr Aisling O’Broinn from GORTA International, Mr Tom O’Keefe from American Investment Group (AIG) in Dublin, Ireland, and Mr Harmon Parker of Bridging the Gap said the bridge had a lifespan of 50 years “if well taken care of”.

“It is the largest suspension bridge in Africa. It is stable and strong and can’t be swayed by wind and was designed by an American engineer, Mr Chris Rollins”, said Mr Sylvester Ouko from Bridging the Gap and who was one of the builders.