Sea of water smashes villages

32 die in Kenya dam-burst deluge after weeks of rain

An aerial view shows rescue efforts near houses destroyed by the flood
An aerial view shows rescue efforts near houses destroyed by the flood
Image: Reuters

Adam burst on a commercial flower farm in Kenya’s Rift Valley after weeks of torrential rain, unleashing a “sea of water” that careered down a hillside and smashed into two villages, killing at least 32 people.

The walls of the dam, on top of a hill in Nakuru county, 190km northwest of Nairobi, gave way late on Wednesday as nearby residents were sitting down to evening meals.

Kenya is one of the largest suppliers of cut flowers to Europe, and roses from the Solai farm are exported to the Netherlands and Germany, according to Optimal Connection, its Netherlands-based handling agent.

The floodwaters carved out a dark brown chasm in the hillside and swept away power lines, homes and buildings, including a primary school, as rescue workers picked through rubble and mud searching for survivors.

The bodies of two female victims were found several kilometres away.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka put the death toll at 32.

After a severe drought last year, East Africa has been hit by two months of heavy rain, affecting nearly a million people in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda.
Bridges have been swept away and roads turned into rivers of mud.

A child in a house damaged by flooding after the dam burst in Solai
A child in a house damaged by flooding after the dam burst in Solai
Image: Reuters

In Solai, Veronica Wanjiku Ngigi, 67, said she had been at home brewing tea with her son at about 8pm when his wife rushed in to say the dam had burst and they had to get to higher ground immediately.

“It was a sea of water. My neighbour was killed when the water smashed through the wall of his house.

“He was blind, so he could not run. They found his body in the morning,” she said.

“My other neighbours also died. All our houses have been ruined.”

Nakuru lies in the heart of Kenya’s fertile Rift Valley, home to thousands of commercial farms that grow everything from French beans and macadamia nuts to cut flowers, nearly all of which are exported to Europe.

The region is dotted with irrigation reservoirs built in the past two decades to meet the demands of the rapidly expanding agricultural sector, the biggest foreign exchange earner for East Africa’s largest economy and a major source of jobs.

Vinoj Kumar, general manager of the Solai farm, blamed the disaster on massive rainfall in a forest above the dam.

“In the past two days the intensity of the rain was high and the water started coming down carrying boulders and roots which damaged the wall,” he said.

“The dam wall cracked and the water escaped.”

Nakuru governor Lee Kinyanjui said 450 homes had been hit by the floodwaters and safety engineers had been sent to inspect three other dams nearby.

Wanjiku, the survivor, said at least one looked as if it was also ready to burst.