More bodies found as landslide death toll hits 46


By JEREMIAH KIPLANG’AT
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OSCAR KAKAI

By OSCAR KAKAI
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The death toll from devastating landslides that hit remote villages in West Pokot County had risen to 46 on Sunday as more bodies were pulled from the mounds of soil.

Governor John Lonyangapuo said rescue and recovery missions by various government agencies were underway, adding that the number of deaths could rise.

Five bodies were recovered in Sigor and another four in Parua, adding to the 37 deaths recorded Saturday, he said.

On Saturday, 16 people were admitted to Kapenguria County Referral Hospital.

Two were discharged the same day while another two were referred to Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital.

More than 400 people have been displaced and are camping at various primary schools located on higher ground, County Commissioner Apollo Okello said. Nyarkulian, Parua and Muino villages are the most affected.

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The extent of the destruction became clearer Sunday as rains subsided and the mist that had engulfed the villages since Friday lifted.

Sigor and Muino were inaccessible most of Saturday owing to the heavy rains that were still pounding the area and which hampered rescue and recovery efforts.

By Sunday, however, the rains had subsidised and the huge mist that covered the affected villages had receded, allowing humanitarian assistance to reach the area.

Roads were also passable. The villages are located in the most remote parts of the county, making it a tough journey to reach them.

It took security officers and humanitarian officials over 18 hours to arrive there. In Nyarkulian, landslides struck at 12am when most residents were asleep.

Tonnes of soil suddenly moved downhill, taking with it people and their homes. The suddenness of the landslides caught hundreds unawares.

Most of them had not experienced landslides before and did not know how to react.

The heavy rains accompanied by lightning and thunderstorms began at 9pm on Friday and continued until Saturday morning.

Around midnight on Friday, all hell broke loose. Residents said they first felt the earth tremble and shift under their feet.

What followed next was chaos and pandemonium. Residents said the darkness added to the confusion.

A stampede ensued as no one could see where soil and huge rocks were coming from.

Those who were first out of their doors were either buried under the earth or hit by rocks tumbling down the hill at high speed.

For Petasha Loruma and David Yopakabel, life will never be the same again after they each lost three family members to the horrific landslides that struck Nyarkulian village in Tapach ward.

The village lost at least 15 people to the tragedy. Mr Loruma and Mr Yopakabel were disconsolate after losing their relatives in addition to their homes being destroyed.

Mr Loruma escaped death narrowly and was found unconscious on top of the displaced mounds of soil.

Under the earth where he was found was his mother, wife and child, who were buried alive. Their bodies were only pulled out on Saturday morning.

Mr Loruma was admitted to Kapenguria County Referral Hospital in a critical condition.

His neighbour, Mr Yopakabel, with whom he shared a compound, was too distraught to speak after losing three children.

His neighbours said he had been screaming the whole day on Sunday. He was not at home yet when the landslides hit.

On Saturday he found his home destroyed when a huge tree uprooted uphill struck his home, instantly killing his three sons, who were in bed sleeping.

His wife and other children escaped narrowly unhurt. “It was a scary moment for us. It was terrifying. I am still scared by what happened to us. We were screaming for help but no one could help because everyone was scared. Those who came out ended up dying too,” said Ms Priscilla Samuel, a neighbour of the two families that lost their loved ones.

For Mwalimu John Kedisha, his son Cyrus Rotich died a hero.

Upon hearing his neighbours’ cries for help, the Form Three student at Chewoyet High School rushed out with his two sisters from their home to help Mr Yopakabel’s family, just a few metres away.

As he was guiding them to safety, he was swept away by a thick sludge of mud that was rushing swiftly downhill. His body was found on Saturday morning.

Mr Yopakabel’s family members survived. They were admitted to hospital. His two sisters were also seriously injured.

“My brother and my two sisters rushed out when our neighbours were screaming for help. We told them not to risk as the rainfall was heavy, but they could not bear sitting and hearing our neighbours suffer,” said Ms Naomy Cheyech, Rotich’s older sister.

She said the terrifying moments started after they heard earth trembling in the village and screams for help rent the air.

“We were sleeping when the landslides started and we could hear so many cries for help,” she said. Mr Daniel Lotim said he lost his grandmother, who was buried alive at night.

“I am really saddened by her loss. She was not able to escape and she was just swept away and died painfully,” he told the Nation.

County Emergency and Response Department Director Joseph Kamashariboi said residents are in dire need of humanitarian support.


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