A key road linking three counties in the western Kenya region has been closed to traffic after a bridge on River Nzoia developed cracks following heavy rains.
Hundreds of commuters heading to Bungoma, Kakamega and Busia counties were Monday morning forced to seek alternative routes to their destinations after part of the bridge linking the three counties collapsed.
The river has burst its banks resulting to a flooding crisis in the region.
Police have blocked both ends of the bridge to prevent motorists or pedestrians from crossing the now dangerously hanging bridge.
CRACKS ON BRIDGE
The bridge, built in 1962, developed cracks on Saturday night following a heavy downpour, forcing motorists to use one lane after police officers moved in to control traffic, before it caved in on Monday morning.
It is on the main of Mumias-Bungoma road which links the three counties and extends to Kisumu, Eldoret and Uganda. It also connects the sub-counties of Mumias and Matungu.
Motorists heading to Bungoma and Busia are either forced to move through Kakamega-Webuye-Bungoma or risk using another bridge on the same river that was built by Mumias Sugar Company linking Musango-Indangalasia areas in Mumias and Matungu sub-counties, which has also been partially submerged in water.
The bridge was built during the colonial era in 1962 by the Japanese after the then existing bridge was carried away by floods.
According to Mr Asman Karakacha, 90, from Nyakwaka village, that was the last time the water levels in the river rose to worrying levels.
He recalled the situation then, which has now been replayed. He was coming back from Kampala where he worked as a clerk when he found that the bridge had been carried away.
“I was forced to go through Turbo in Eldoret to reach Mumias. In the following year, 1962, this bridge was constructed,” Mr Karakacha told the Nation.
At least 250 families in Mumias West Sub-County and 110 from Matungu have been affected by the flash floods that have submerged their houses and destroyed property of unknown value after the river broke its banks.
An estimated 40,000 people have been displaced in Busia County, also as a result of the swollen River Nzoia.
In Kisumu and Siaya, residents and leaders are concerned about the safety of some bridges in the region, saying they are a disaster in waiting.
Residents of Kisumu East, Nyando and Usenge in Bondo Sub-County fear that lives could be lost if the government, through various road agencies, does not act fast to prevent a possible calamity.
The bridges include Ayweyo in Nyando, Kambogo in Kisumu East and Usenge-Majimbo in Bondo.
APPEAL TO KENHA
Kisumu East MP Shakeel Shabbir and locals led by John Riaga claim their calls to have the Kambogo bridge, which is on the Mamboleo-Guba-Miwani road, have fallen on deaf ears. The bridge has been partly washed away.
The bridge connects Mamboleo to Guba and Miwani and has heavy traffic including trucks that ferry building materials from quarries and sugarcane to Kibos Sugar Factory.
"Are we going to wait for a disaster to happen before something is done on this bridge?" asked Mr Riaga.
Mr Shabbir told the Nation the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) has not responded to requests to attend to the bridge.
"This road was budgeted for but we are surprised that every year, its construction is overlooked. KeNHA should take this seriously," said Mr Shabbir.
Another affected road is Usenge-Majimbo-Osieko Road at the Goye Causeway. The causeway is the channel through which River Yala drains into Lake Victoria.
Following the heavy downpour witnessed in Usenge over the past few days, the causeway has been covered with water, with locals risking by speeding across it, as well as motorists carrying heavy loads.
“The water has already covered the road. We fear that if the rains continue the Lake Victoria water will spread backwards to River Yala and wash away the road and this could result in deaths,” said Florence Adoyo Otieno, a resident of Nyangera in Usenge.
Already KeNHA has issued alerts on the situation of causeway.
In a Twitter post, KeNHA cautioned motorists plying Kisian-Bondo-Usenge-Osieko of the overtopping of River Yala at the causeway and urged them to exercise caution following the heavy rains experienced in Nyanza region and its environs.
Meanwhile, it was a relief for motorists and residents plying the Ahero-Kisii route after a section of the road swept away by floods was reopened. Building of the road has been going on for nearly a month.
Ayweyo bridge collapsed last month following heavy rains, leaving residents to use the longer and expensive Ahero-Awasi-Katito route.
Director of President's Delivery Unit Silvance Osele oversaw the works.
Reporting by Shaban Makokha, Rushdie Oudia and Ondari Ogega