Kenya flooding: Around 50 killed in villages near Mai Mahiu town

Area around Mai Mahiu

About 50 people have died in Kenya in a deluge following heavy rains and flooding, a Red Cross official has said.

People in villages near Mai Mahiu, about 60km (37 miles) from the capital, Nairobi, were swept away as they slept.

Rescue efforts are continuing to pull people out of the mud, with fears that the death toll could rise.

More than 100 people have been killed in floods that have devastated parts of Kenya in the last month.

A wide brown scar of mud, uprooted trees and crushed houses slices through the area of Mai Mahiu.

A roaring sound woke people up in the early hours of Monday as a tide of water crashed down from upriver.

Residents spoke of a night of frantic efforts to pull people out of the raging flood and dig them out of the mud.

Deden Muiri, 60, said he heard the roar and saw lightening flash. But before he had time to think he was up to his neck in water.

He saw the flood take his wife and was swept in the opposite direction.

Convinced he was going to die, Mr Muiri said a quiet goodbye to his family.

Miraculously though, he was able to grab a tree branch and clung to life by hanging on.

One of his daughters knows how to swim, he said, and was able to rescue two of his grandchildren.

When we arrived many people were out surveying the damage, walking along the gauged out riverbank, poking through the debris, trying to come to grips with the catastrophe.

Peter Munyinge's house survived but the rest of his neighbourhood did not.

"There are little babies in the water, older people…people are screaming, people are crying, losing their lives and their loved ones," he said.

The Kenya Red Cross has joined search and rescue operations, with its emergency response manager, Anthony Muchiri, telling the BBC that the death toll has risen to 50.

"This is the worst I've ever come across in my career," he said, adding that not only were people's homes swept away, but also their foundations.

Of the bodies recovered so far, 17 were of children, police commander Stephen Kirui said, cited by Reuters news agency.

The sudden wave of floodwater was initially attributed to a nearby burst dam by local officials.

However, the Kenyan ministry of water, sanitation and irrigation said on Monday evening that the incident occurred as a result of a tunnel - which channels the River Tongi under a railway line - becoming blocked with "debris, stones, trees and soil" during the recent downpours.

This prevented water flowing through it to move downstream, leading to a pool of water suddenly sweeping over the railway line, the ministry said in a statement.

"The area has no dam and the only dam upstream in a different tributary is the Matches Dam which is in good condition and stable," it added.

The small villages of Kamuchiri and Kianugu were among those that bore the brunt of the disaster.

Peter Muhoho
Peter Muhoho was lucky to survive [BBC]

Peter Muhoho said that most of his neighbours were swept away in Kianugu, a village with about 18 homes.

"I was asleep when I heard a loud bang and screams. Water had flooded the area. We started rescuing people," Mr Muhoho told the BBC.

Pointing to a bag he was holding, Mr Muhoho added: "This bag belongs to a chid I knew. He was washed away. I found it [the bag] downstream."

The government has delayed the opening of schools across Kenya with more rain expected, according to forecasters.

More than 130,000 people have been displaced by the floods, with many people taking shelter in schools.

Heavy rains have also pounded neighbouring Tanzania and Burundi.

At least 155 people have been killed in Tanzania since January.

In Burundi, nearly 100,000 people have been displaced.

The number of casualties is unclear.


One of the biggest drivers of the rains is the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD).

The IOD - often called the "Indian Niño" because of its similarity to its Pacific equivalent - refers to the difference in sea-surface temperatures in opposite parts of the Indian Ocean.

During a positive phase, the waters in the western Indian Ocean are much warmer than normal and this can bring heavier rain regardless of El Niño.

However, when both a positive IOD and an El Niño occur at the same time, as was the case last year, the rains in East Africa can become extreme.

One of the strongest positive IOD patterns on record coincided with one of the strongest El Niño patterns in 1997 and 1998, with severe flooding reported. These caused more than 6,000 deaths in five countries in the region.

Human-induced climate change also makes extreme rainfall more likely as it warms up the atmosphere.

More about the floods in East Africa: