Seven people were feared dead on Monday following a train accident in Nairobi’s biggest informal settlement.
Witnesses said several others were also suspected to have been trapped when the Uganda-bound train derailed in the Shimoni area at 11.30am, flattening shanties adjacent to the railway.
Rescue operations dragged on for several hours and by 4.30pm, efforts by Rift Valley Railways to bring in a crane to help lift the five wagons were yet to bear fruit.
Rescuers using jembes, forks and mattocks had a hard time pulling out the victims, losing some in the process.
Mr Nicholas Turani, who escaped unhurt, recounted how the wagons began to sway as the goods train negotiated a bend about 300 metres away before it derailed.
“I was walking near the railway and was lucky because the train fell on the opposite side,” he said.
Mr Turani said he had seen a woman and her child standing on the side of the rails where the wagons eventually landed.
The shanties that were flattened were serving as food kiosks, houses and places of worship.
In a bizarre twist, the accident occurred in the same railway section as another last week. Repairs were going on and some of those trapped were said to been part of the team that was working on the railway line.
“The railway was being repaired but the work was temporarily halted to allow the train to pass,” said Mr Turani.
Government officials at the scene, including Lang’ata district commissioner Evans Owango, could not give an official death toll.
The DC expressed fears that the number of casualties could be very high if all the kiosks had been open and if rumours that some people were in a church were true.
“This area is usually very busy, but we hope that not many people were around at the time of the accident,” he said.
He blamed a culture of impunity among residents who ignore warnings not to settle on the railway reserve.
According to him, two people had been confirmed dead and three others taken to hospital. But he added that no one could give an accurate figure unless the wagons were lifted.
Residents rushed to the scene, not to rescue the victims, but to reap from the misfortune. Two of the derailed wagons were tanks containing cooking oil and people scrambled to scoop the spilt oil.
Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, who is also Lang’ata MP of which Kibera is part, said thorough investigations into train derailments that have taken place around Kibera should be carried out.
He said both the government and RVR must look into the operations and maintenance of the rail system.
Mr Odinga also consoled the bereaved families.