NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 24 – The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has suspended visitors’ access to gorges in Hells Gate National Park during the ongoing rainy season, after the death of seven members of a church group on Sunday night.
The seven who were swept away by flash floods were walking in the gorge as part of an excursion by a 53-member Mukarara PCEA church youth group from Nairobi.
KWS has however said that other parts of the park remain open for public visitation. The park is popular for cycling, horse riding, rock climbing, nature walks, geothermal geyser viewing and game viewing.
KWS Assistant Director Paul Mbugua said the decision was made to avoid risks of more disasters.
“We have suspended use of the gorge during the rainy seasons as we study the circumstances that led to that incident. This will be for the duration of the rain which will give us time to study the scenario and see what it is we could have done to avert the tragedy,” he said.
He explained that the floods were unexpected and therefore nobody should be blamed.
“The rains that caused these flash floods did not fall in Hells Gate itself. They fell somewhere else and water just came. If it had been raining there, you could actually know there is danger and get out of there,” he said.
“There was only a very slight drizzle which did not call for people to even seek shelter and then all of a sudden you are in the gorge and water comes in and sweeps away people.”
He termed the Sunday evening incident as unfortunate saying that the organisation is currently exploring ways of making the gorge safe for tourists.
“It is a very unique park. It is one of the parks that people are allowed to walk on foot. In most of the other parks, you are supposed to do game drives,” he said.
“In Hells Gate, we actually have bicycles for hire which are parked at the gate. You come with your car, park it and use the bicycles to tour the area. That is how safe it is in spite of having buffaloes and Zebras.”
He described it as the first ever incident to occur in the park, which is one of Kenya’s enthralling scenes for lovers of nature.
“The flash floods were not a danger that could be anticipated because it is not a normal occurrence. It is a once in a long time kind of occurrence, but there are usually warnings,” he said.
He stated that the KWS management at the park usually takes the necessary safety measures before allowing visitors to the park.
“When it comes to safety, depending on the activity that you are engaging in, you are advised accordingly. When you get to the gorge, before going down, these guides give a talk on how to go there and what to expect and they also hint on the dangers to be expected,” he said.
He stated that sign posts are located at strategic places within the conservatory to guide people and even challenge them.
“As far as signage is concerned, we have the necessary signposts and this rules out the need for armed guides so that if you go to the national park and you are a good map reader, we have map of the park being sold at the gate and you also challenge yourself with your map reading skills. It is part of the fun,” he said.