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Kenya floods have killed nearly 200, displaced thousands

Floods and landslides in Kenya have killed nearly 200 people, displaced 100,000 and strained critical infrastructure, with unprecedentedly high water levels at two dams forcing the evacuation of villagers at risk, officials said on Wednesday.

Evacuations are ongoing for those who live near dams that are threatening to burst

Residents wade through the waters on May 3 after their home was flooded after the Nzoia River burst its banks due to heavy rainfall and the backflow from Lake Victoria, in Budalangi, Kenya. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

Floods and landslides in Kenya have killed nearly 200 people, displaced 100,000 and strained critical infrastructure, with unprecedentedly high water levels at two dams forcing the evacuation of villagers at risk, officials said on Wednesday.

The heavy rain, which accelerated in mid-April, is expected to continue in already hard-hit areas in the coming weeks, the Kenya Meteorological Department said in its most recent forecast. May usually marks the end of the rainy season.

In Budalangi, western Kenya, residents have had to carry their belongings away from their submerged houses using boats and motorbikes, after the Nzoia River burst its banks, spilling over the land for kilometres.

Government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna said on Twitter that over the past three weeks, floods had displaced 100,000 people — complicating efforts to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed 24 people in the country.

The government is providing food and water to the displaced people and has also requested the health ministry provide them with masks as a precautionary measure.

The floods and landslides have been concentrated in western Kenya and have so far killed 194 people, said Eugene Wamalwa, the minister in charge of relations between the regional leadership and the national government.

"Yesterday alone, we have lost 30 people in a matter of 24 hours," Wamalwa said.

Twin effects of floods, coronavirus

Energy Minister Charles Keter said the water levels at two major Kenyan dams were unprecedentedly high.

The two dams, Masinga and Turkwel, represent about six per cent of Kenya's total installed capacity.

As Masinga also feeds into several other dams, officials advised people living near those downstream reservoirs to evacuate.

"We are telling people who are downstream, Garissa all the way to Tana River — things are worsening," Keter said about residents of the two eastern counties.

"We are asking them to move. Let them not wait for water, because this is historical."

An aerial view on May 3 shows flood waters near the Sigiri Bridge in Budalangi, Kenya. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

Security officials were already evacuating residents in high-risk areas, Interior Minister Fred Matiang'i added.

"We are not waiting for people to move — we are moving some people away from danger," he said.

The floods have also destroyed 8,000 acres of rice fields, said Sicily Kariuki, the cabinet secretary for water and irrigation.

Kenya was already facing a looming rice shortage due to shipping disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The heavy rains and landslides could also lead to water shortages, Kariuki said.

"The infrastructure to deliver water has been washed away … pipelines have been clogged," said Kariuki, asking residents of several cities, including the capital of Nairobi, to use their water in a "rational" manner.

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