NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 4 – At least eight people were killed and nine others seriously wounded on Wednesday when massive boulders crushed houses in Mathare after a night of heavy rains.
Most families were asleep when the boulders fell from an overhanging cliff, trapping many of them before others were rescued and rushed to the Kenyatta National Hospital. Nine victims were admitted to the country’s largest referral hospital.
“Eight people have died out of this disaster. Six of the bodies were retrieved from under the rubble. Another died on the way to hospital while the eighth died in hospital,” a police officer involved in the rescue operation told Capital FM News late on Wednesday.
Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere had told journalists at the scene that they believed more bodies were trapped in the debris.
“From the information we are receiving, there are people trapped under this rubble that is why we want to clear the site and confirm,” Iteere told journalists before rescuers retrieved three bodies.
Hopes of retrieving any more people alive diminished late in the afternoon after the site was cleared.
Bulldozers from the Transport Ministry, National Youth Service (NYS) and another one called from a company constructing the Thika Highway helped clear the site.
“There are six bodies which have been retrieved from the rubble. We do not believe that there are any more bodies here,” the head of the disaster management team Vincent Anami said.
Rescuers comprising the military, police and National Youth Service assisted by Kenya Red Cross volunteers used bare hands to sift through the massive rubble in search of survivors, after residents insisted that there were at least 10 missing persons.
The Red Cross said more than 40 houses were destroyed in the sprawling slum when huge boulders came crashing as residents slept while others were preparing to leave for their work places.
A witness who survived the early morning disaster recounted to Capital FM News how massive rocks crumbled and flattened shanty houses right next to his door step.
“I was asleep when I heard a loud blast and thought it was a thunderstorm. I immediately heard screams and people shouting… there was confusion all over when I went outside and it was now upon each person to save their life,” Kennedy Thuku who has lived in the slum for 17 years selling boiled eggs said. “I thank God for being alive today because most of those dead are people I know.”
Residents wailed and shouted as bulldozers roared to the scene lifting heavy rocks to enable rescuers check for bodies underground.
“I don’t like when I see this! What if that bulldozer is moving on top of trapped people?” one resident said in the early hours of Wednesday when the rescue operation had just began.
There was poor coordination at the site earlier in the morning as police and NYS personnel grappled with little equipment to try to retrieve bodies, assisted by hundreds of slum youth who easily volunteered to help with their bare hands despite the heavy downpour.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga later visited the scene and announced that the military was on their way with better equipment and machinery.
“The military is coming to assist in the operation. It is very unfortunate that we have lost innocent people in the disaster,” the premier said, amid cheers of Baba! Baba! (father) from the crowd.
He announced that a team had been set up at the Special Programs Ministry to help resettle families displaced by the disaster.
Apart from families whose houses were flattened by rocks in the early morning disaster, there are those whose houses were destroyed by the rescue team to pave way for the heavy machinery to access the scene.
Nairobi Provincial Commissioner Njoroge Ndirangu said people living on disaster prone areas across the city will be moved forcefully to avoid a repeat of the Wednesday incident.
“This is an order, and it is going to happen, all these people are going to be moved. We know they will resist but we are well prepared for the exercise,” Ndirangu said.
Heavy rains have begun pounding several Kenyan regions at the start of the main rainy season, which often causes floods and massive displacement.