High deaths in dam tragedy blamed on slow response - Daily Nation

Patel Dam: High deaths blamed on slow response

Saturday May 12 2018

Patel Dam tragedy in Solai

Survivors of the Patel Dam tragedy in Solai, Nakuru County, on May 10, 2018. Kenyans have responded generously to pleas for their assistance. PHOTO | AYUB MUIYURO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The high number deaths in the Patel Dam tragedy has been blamed on failure by residents of Nyakinyua, Solai, to act first after the reservoir burst its banks.

Witnesses said many dismissed the loud bang from Patel dam as thunder and the subsequent rumbling of water, which took about 30 minutes to reach where they live.

Most of the people were caught unawares as all were engulfed in their normal chores.

Some went out of their houses to confirm where the sound had come from but when they did not see anything, they continued with what they were doing.

To the village, it is something that has never happened, nor they imagined. But yet again, it came and with a selfish wrath killed helpless children, the elderly, women and even men.

The water uprooted trees, debris of buildings that were once considered permanent, destroyed electricity poles and carcasses of animals was what remained of the quiet farming village.

Mr James Karanja, 23, said he was with his friends playing pool game at the trading centre.

“When we heard the sound, we knew it was rain and so many of us suggested that we continue playing pool until it was over,” Mr Karanja said.

However, as time passed, they realised the rumbling of the water was more forceful than the rain they are used to.

“When we later heard screams and gun shots in the air, we all scattered to safety.

"I wanted to rush home to inform my relatives but on the way, the water caught up with me. I was swept away for about 50 metres and managed to cling onto a tree branch and saved myself,” he recalled.

Ms Lydia Wangeci, 67, was saved by her daughter-in-law since she had already slept.

She knocked loudly on her house door and asked her to come out with her grandchildren.

“We rushed out and she told us the dam had burst and that we were in big danger. Immediately, we rushed to the upper side of our compound and ran as far as we could to save our lives,” Ms Wangeci recounted.

She, however, could not save her property and animals as they were swept away. She only found the carcasses later.

Many families were not spared by the wrath of the angry dam.

Some lost nearly all their relatives while others whose kin are missing are still hopeful of finding them alive.

On Friday, the search for bodies was concluded by the multiagency team that included the police, Kenya Red Cross and Kenya Defence Forces personnel, among others.

The residents gathered in small groups and talked in low tones as the magnitude of the tragedy unfolded.

This went on as rescuers curiously searched every covered property with hope of finding at least a breathing soul, or at the worst a body of many of their missing persons.

The emergency response team conducted the search in about a 10km stretch where the water passed.

But they did not find any more bodies even as the residents clung onto the hope that their loved ones lives would be saved or the bodies would be retrieved. 

Two other dams that the government said posed threats to residents were drained Friday.