NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 20 – The drilling stops. The shovelling stops. The conversations come to a halt and all eyes turn to the rubble. A body has been found.
In this case two. Male and female.
But before they can be pulled out, the household items that were a part of their existence need to be moved out of the way.
A light blue dish rack then the broken remains of a red sofa are pulled out by the Kenya Defence Forces and handed to the National Youth Service for setting aside.
The woman is brought out first. The Kenya Red Cross hurriedly cover her remains in white tarp and after another hour of drilling, the man is lifted out. Clad in a white vest and khaki pants. He too is hurriedly wrapped up and carried into a waiting vehicle for transportation to the mortuary.
And for the entire hour it took to retrieve his body, there is wailing over the woman.
Her name according to 43-year-old Eric Wambugu, was Maureen. She was his neighbour. She was loud. They spoke just four hours before their residential building in Makongeni crumbled at 3am on Wednesday.
“She asked me why I was up at 11pm and I was always the first in our building to wake up.”
Eric was awake because his neighbours, the ones who lived in corrugated iron sheet houses outside their building, had woken him up and warned him the building was coming down.
“Pebbles were hitting their roofs but when I went out everything had settled. So I went back in and that’s when Maureen saw me. In previous conversations we’d agreed the best time to move out was in January because that’s when houses become available.”
Eric went back to bed until 3am when his alarm went off.
“I’m a driver with the Attorney General’s chambers but my boss wasn’t around so I went back to bed.”
But he didn’t get to sleep in much because as he’d been warned, their building really was coming down.
“I tried to go out the door. A metal one. But it was stuck. I pulled and pulled with no success but I was lucky because the wall cracked open wide enough for me to pass into my neighbour’s house.”
There, he saw a couple. Dead. A slab of concrete having fallen on them.
But he only made it as far as their balcony before the third floor came caving in.
“It brought me to within touching distance of the ground but I couldn’t move. I was trapped. After that I draw a blank. The next thing I remember is waking up at the Kenyatta National Hospital at 4pm when I was being tagged as a victim of the collapsed building.”
Eric is moving now albeit with a little difficulty given the injuries to his left leg.
“The swelling has come down and the volunteers here redressed the wound for me this morning (Thursday) because my wife and I had to spend the night outside.”
As Maureen’s body was being pulled out the rubble, Eric and his wife Lois went around the pile of items recovered in search of theirs to set aside.
A wooden coffee table with a broken leg, he decided, should be thrown away. He said nothing of the Bible on top of it.
The blanket and mattress, it was evident, were still in usable condition.
He picked them up and handed them over to her.
She after all had no injuries having arrived from Nyahururu the day before when she heard of the building collapse.
“She got here at about 1pm when she was unable to reach me on phone.”
Lois lives with their 16-year-old twin boy and girl on their one and a half acre farm in Nyahururu; so he can afford a laugh when his loved ones call to ascertain his survival.
“I’m going to look for a house tomorrow, leave these things there and head to Nyahururu for a bit. The office after all knows what happened to me. Besides, my son keeps telling me to WhatsApp him a photo of my injury. But I don’t blame him. I still don’t believe that I made it out of that death trap alive either.”