On Thursday afternoon, Caroline Kalekye Odhiambo bade her husband goodbye as she boarded a Nairobi-bound bus at Asembo, Rarieda, in Siaya County, to visit her relatives in Machakos.
She was travelling with her two sons, Christopher Odhiambo, 2, and Januarys Ochieng’, 6. Caroline chose to carry little Christopher while two fellow passengers on the adjacent seats offered to squeeze January between them. All was well until the Eldoret Express bus reached Pala, three kilometres after Awasi trading centre on the Kericho-Kisumu road.
Suddenly, the passengers, many of them asleep, were jolted as the driver attempted to apply emergency brakes, before swerving to his right. Then there was a bang and everything went blank, she recalled from her hospital bed at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH, where she was taken for treatment.
When she came to, little Christopher was no more. Miraculously, Januarys had survived.
The bus, while avoiding to hit a cane tractor in front of it, rammed an oncoming truck. The drivers of the bus and the truck, which was heading to Kisumu, died, alongside 11 passengers. More than 30 passengers were taken to health facilities in the area with various injuries.
At the scene of the accident that happened just after 11pm, the Saturday Nation found the heavily damaged vehicles and blood-stained personal effects of the passengers strewn over a 50-metre radius. The truck’s cabin was completely destroyed while the bus’s body on the right side had been ripped off from the front to the back, leaving badly twisted seats.
Carolyne, while grateful for the survival of one of her children, was inconsolable for the loss of young Christopher.
In between sobs, she narrated how he met his death.
“Christopher hit his head against the seat in front of us and died on the spot. Luckily, Januarys survived,” she said.
At the hospital, several other passengers lay on stretchers, grimacing in pain as they awaited their turn with the medics.
Darcon Owino, 35, said he boarded the bus at Obambo in Kisumu West, barely 50km from the scene of the accident. “I only recall a loud bang and screams,” Mr Owino narrated.
Elizabeth Awino, another survivor, blames the cane tractor driver for the accident.
Nyanza regional police boss Vincent Makokha and his Kisumu county counterpart Benson Maweu led rescue operations at the scene. But, according to witnesses, the survivors and the bodies of the dead remained at the scene of the accident for close to two hours before the rescue teams arrived.
“The first team of police officers came and left; then came the Kenya Red Cross team, who collected the bodies with the assistance of villagers,” said Walter Otieno, who lives nearby.
“The accident happened at around 11pm but rescue operations only started at 1am. County ambulances never showed up. Police ambulances and others from the Kenya Red Cross are the ones that came,” Mr Michael Owino told the Saturday Nation at the scene.
The bus conductor, Peter Kamande, recounted how their journey had begun on Wednesday evening to Luanda Kotieno in Uyoma, Siaya County, with two drivers, Peter Kariuki and Kennedy Ochieng. “We arrived at Luanda-Kotieno in Uyoma on Thursday morning, where we stayed till evening before setting off for Nairobi,” Mr Kamande said. “We left Luanda-Kotieno with 36 passengers but others boarded on the way as we headed for Kisumu.”
He described Mr Kariuki, 50, as an experienced driver who did everything possible to avert the accident.
“As we left Kisumu at around 9.30pm, Mr Kariuki took the driver’s seat and embarked on the journey back to Nairobi until hell broke loose.”
All was well, according to Kamande, until Kariuki suddenly spotted a tractor ahead.
“As he veered to the right lane to overtake, he hit an oncoming truck head-on. I cannot recall what happened next, as I found myself in the bush,” Mr Kamande said.
It emerged that despite the accident occurring just after 11pm, emergency services did not arrive at the scene, until after 1am yesterday, two hours later.
“The first batch of police officers came and left and was closely followed by the Kenya Red Cross team. They collected the bodies with the assistance of villagers,” Mr Walter Otieno said.
At Ahero sub county hospital where the 13 bodies were taken, no survivor was admitted or treated.
A source revealed that the medical staff at the hospital were on a go-slow attributing it to failure by the county government to pay their three month salaries.
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