By TOM ODULA
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A dam burst its banks in Kenya’s Rift Valley, killing at least 41 people and forcing hundreds from their homes, officials said Thursday. At least 20 of the dead were children, police said.
Water burst through the banks of the Patel Dam in Solai, Nakuru County, on Wednesday night, sweeping away hundreds of homes, including those on the expansive Nyakinyua estate that borders the reservoir.
“Many people are missing. It is a disaster,” said Rongai town police chief Joseph Kioko.
Nearly 170 people have now died since March from floods caused by seasonal rains, according to Kenyan authorities. The floods hit as the East African nation was recovering from a severe drought that affected half of the country.
Almost an entire village was swept away by silt and water from the burst dam, said Gideon Kibunja, the county police chief in charge of criminal investigations. Officials said homes over a radius of nearly 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) were submerged.
Close to 40 people were rescued from the mud and taken to hospitals on Thursday morning in operations by Kenya Red Cross and Nakuru County disaster management teams.
The area has seven dams used by a commercial farm, said Keffa Mageni, an official with an advocacy group that helps to resettle displaced people. With the heavy seasonal rains the dams do not have an outlet, he said.
“There are two other dams which are leaking,” one resident, Stephen Nganga, said. He asked the government to investigate them for the residents’ safety.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi visited the scene Thursday and said the government had launched investigations to determine the stability of the six other dams.
More than 225,000 people in Kenya have been displaced from their homes since March, according to the government. Military helicopters and personnel in the past week have been deployed to rescue people marooned by the flooding.
The dam burst has again raised concerns about the state of Kenya’s infrastructure. The National Construction Authority in the past has blamed contractors of bypassing building codes to save on cost.
In April 2016 a residential building in the capital, Nairobi, collapsed during rains, killing 52 people. Last May the wall of a hospital collapsed due to rains, killing six people in Kenya’s second largest city, Mombasa.