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Mombasa sits pretty as cyclone lands next door

Thursday April 25 2019

swimming Mombasa

Children swim at the Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach, Mombasa. Although Kenya is not directly in the path of Cyclone Kenneth, it will still experience the after-effects. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

WINNIE ATIENO
By WINNIE ATIENO
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A powerful cyclone is set to unleash floods, heavy winds and massive destruction on the east coast of Africa, whose cost will run into tens of billions of shillings.

Although Kenya is not directly in the path of Cyclone Kenneth, it will still experience the after-effects, such as heavy rains and possible flooding as the Indian Ocean storm tears through Mozambique and neighbouring Tanzania.

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

Kenya’s southern neighbour ordered the closure of schools and businesses in the Mtwara region and asked residents to leave for safer ground before Cyclone Kenneth hits Thursday night.

Although Kenya’s weather experts and governments officials say there is nothing to worry about, the cyclone could be the second worst to hit the region in a generation after Tropical Cyclone Idai last month, and its effects will be felt over a wide area.

United Nations officials predict that the cyclone will leave a “humanitarian catastrophe” in its wake, with forecasters predicting heavy rainfall for several days.

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Mombasa Island, surrounded by the Indian Ocean, is a spectacular port city, with its landscape dotted with buildings that evoke historical memories. But with climate change, it is one of the towns threatened with destruction because of the rising sea levels and unprecedented storms.

But the area residents seem to have no idea of the lurking danger.

“I have no idea what that thing is. The government should explain and prepare us in case of any eventuality,” Mr Suleiman Iddi, a Likoni resident, said of Cyclone Kenneth.

CAUGHT UNAWARES

With the cyclone expected to hit 60 kilometres from the Kenyan border, it is Kenya’s unpreparedness that is worrying, should the storm move closer and hit the shoreline.

Fishermen have been warned by their lobby group, Wavuvi Association of Kenya, to stay away from the ocean.

“We warned our fishermen, especially those bordering Tanzania in Vanga, to stay away from the ocean for a while until this thing makes a landfall,” said Mr Hamid Mohamed, the national chairman.

Cyclone Idai caught most of Southern Africa nations unprepared after it quickly formed in the Mozambique Channel and caught both the governments and aid agencies unawares.

Mombasa could be spared, for now, but whether it will be spared in future is hard to tell.

Mombasa County Director of Meteorology Edward Ngure says tropical cyclones are unlikely to hit the Kenya coast because its location. But it’s the damage they cause that is mind-boggling.

Cyclone Idai, for instance, destroyed 90 per cent of the city of Beira and left more than 1,000 dead. It now rates as one of the worst tropical cyclones to ever hit Africa.

It was this cyclone that disrupted the system responsible for bringing rainfall into the country — and which has led to delayed long rains, meaning that Kenya will still be directly affected, said Mr Ngure.

MARINE INDUSTRY

“And just when the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) had started rebuilding, Cyclone Kenneth developed in Indian Ocean which has denied us rainfall this week,” said Ngure.

The ITCZ near the Equator is the point where the Northeast Trade Winds meet the Southeast Trade Winds responsible for the wet and dry seasons in the tropics.

And with the expected heavy rains, some Coast counties have rolled out plans to mitigate against flooding.

The Mombasa County government, for instance, is constructing storm water drainage systems in anticipation of the long rains. It is also repairing and unblocking drainage systems in various parts of the County.

Mr Ngure said the heavy rains will be accompanied by strong winds offshore. which might result in a storm surge in the ocean.

“Fishermen, beachgoers and all in the marine industry should be on high alert,” he said.

Different parts of the country have experienced heavy rains in that past few says, but some parts of the Coast, like Taita-Taveta and Kilifi counties, have received only light showers. 

“We don’t want to experience flooding like in the past. We are working to ensure that the roads and streets are passable even when it rains heavily,” Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho said.

COMPENSATE

Meanwhile, Kwale County Governor Salim Mvurya said his administration is prepared for any eventuality ahead of the long rains.

He said the county’s disaster management and rescue team has already mapped out areas prone to flooding like Msambweni, Ramisi, Lunga lunga and Vanga.

“In addition to mapping out the areas, we are also prepared to counter water-borne diseases. We have activated our public health teams to ensure that they issue water treatment tabs to avert outbreaks of cholera and other diseases,” Mr Mvurya said.

In Tana River, the Director of Communication, Mr Steve Juma, told the Nation that they have warned the people living in low lands to move to higher grounds.

Mr Juma said that the county government will not assist anyone who refuses to heed to t move to high grounds.

“We will not tolerate or compensate any resident who refuses to move. Most of our people live along the river banks and are vulnerable when the Tana River bursts its banks,” Mr Juma said.