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Marooned by raging waters for 3 days, ‘we are lucky to be alive’

Friday December 06 2019
MARPIC

From left: Muinde Kasuu, Mutuku Tila, and Muteti Kiambi join their relatives and neighbours in celebration in Yikivuthi village, Makueni County, after being rescued from an island in River Athi. PHOTO | PIUS MAUNDU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By PIUS MAUNDU

When Mr Mutuku Tila, 38, Mr Muteti Kiambi, 35, and Mr Muinde Kasuu, 37, left their homesteads in Yikivuthi village, Makueni County, and waded into Kithamani Kwa Muindi, a forested island nestled on the River Athi last Saturday, they had no idea that they would remain marooned on that patch of earth throughout the weekend.

The three casual labourers, who eke a living making charcoal and harvesting honey, were reported missing by their families when the night fell that day.

Terrified residents quickly reported the incident to area administrators and the police.

They were spotted perched on rocks on the small island the following day, ending speculation that the three could have been washed away by floods.

Tension heightened among their relatives and neighbours after they remained marooned until Monday, before being airlifted by the police.

A crowd that had camped on the river bank, all along praying and desperately appealing for the rescue of the three, broke into song and dance after citing a police chopper.

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WILD BERRIES

The celebration heightened as the men disembarked from the chopper at a spot overlooking the island and walked into the hands of their waiting relatives and neighbours.

They looked frail but were in high spirits. They denied reports that they had sneaked onto Kithamani Kwa Muindi to harvest honey from stingless bees.

“The river suddenly broke its banks after we had gone onto the island to check on the state of our beehives. We resolved that it was risky to attempt to cross back. This is why we decided to hang on hoping that the water levels will recede. We got desperate as this did not happen,” Mr Kiambi told the Saturday Nation shortly after they were rescued.

They slept on rocks and occasionally prayed for their safety. “We were attacked by mosquitoes. We were afraid that poisonous snakes could attack us,” Mr Kiambi said, adding that they were worried they would starve to death. “We survived on wild berries and honey,” he explained.

Their relatives and neighbours were crossing fingers that help would come quickly.

Mr Ramesh Gorasia, whose orchard overlooking the island has earned the address its name, provided the oranges and mangoes that some of the villagers hurled across the wide river to the trio.

PERILOUS ATTEMPT

However, there was a real concern that the swelling river could engulf the island and wash the three away following the heavy rains.

“At one point on Sunday afternoon, we contemplated wading through the raging waters but Masongaleni chief signalled that we should not dare,” said Mr Kasuu.

The presence of their relatives and neighbours on the river banks gave them hope that they would be rescued.

The police chopper flew into the area with ease on Monday afternoon after some residents with smartphones provided officers with a Google Map address.

“The residents also lit a bonfire as we had requested them to guide the chopper to the exact scene,” Makueni Police Commander Joseph ole Napeiyan told the Saturday Nation.

Similar cases of locals getting marooned after the River Athi suddenly swells are common.

Two fishermen who had been marooned at the Kwa Kikata section of the river were evacuated by the police the day before the three men were rescued.

SURVEILLANCE

Six people were forced to perch on a raised water tank on a farm near Kithamani Kwa Muindi for more than 12 hours after the river swelled during last year’s deluge.

They were rescued by two local divers who were widely celebrated as heroes by, among others, Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana and County Commissioner Mohammed Maalim.

“The government should put in place a surveillance system to be monitoring River Athi and indeed all major rivers every time it rains. This will make it easy to identify and assist those in urgent need of emergency assistance,” said Father Urbanus Musyoki, a priest at Kavatini Catholic Parish.

The heavy rains have caused 13 deaths and left a trail of destruction in the region. Most of the victims drowned as they attempted to cross flooded rivers.

Three others, including a six-year-old girl, died in Kilungu over the weekend after their homes were covered in mudslides.

The rains have also destroyed houses, breached two dams and damaged multiple roads.

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