As It Happens

Kenyan official vows to investigate dam break that killed dozens

A dam on a commercial flower farm in Kenya's Rift Valley burst after weeks of torrential rain, killing dozens of people in two downhill villages.

Dam bursts on commercial flower farm, unleashing torrent of water onto villages downhill

Survivors watch as rescuers secure the dead body of a woman, recovered after a dam burst which unleashed water at nearby homes, in Solio town near Nakuru, Kenya. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

The governor of Nakuru County, Kenya, says officials are investigating what caused a dam burst on a commercial flower farm Wednesday night, killing dozens of people.

The dam on Kenya's Rift Valley burst after weeks of torrential rain, unleashing a torrent of water that careened down a hillside and smashed into two villages.

Local police chief Japheth Kioko told Reuters that at least 47 people are dead, but that number could rise. At least 20 of the dead were children.

The New York Times reports that villagers' complaints about cracks in the dam went unheeded ahead of Wednesday's tragedy.

Nakuru County Gov. Lee Kinyanjui spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the investigation and the rescue effort. Here is part of that conversation.

Can you tell me some of the stories you heard today about how people were able to escape the mudslide?

We have a particular lady here — shall I call her a volunteer? — she's not a medic, but she was able to help us to resuscitate over 30 people, and many of them have actually now fully recovered.

She did a wonderful job in very exceptional times, where most of the clinicians had actually ran away for their lives.

Well, running away from your life is sometimes a good idea. There are lot of people who haven't been accounted for who maybe escaped or maybe are still lost in the mud.

We still believe quite a number are lost in the mud and that's why ... tomorrow we're resuming search and rescue operations.

A child walks near homes destroyed by flooding. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

This is, as we understand, a privately owned dam. This is on a very, very large estate farm where they're growing flowers [and] had other purposes for irrigation. This is one of several dams owned by this estate. Can you tell us why it burst? What was wrong with it?

Immediately when this tragedy came, we constituted a technical team to be able to assess the structural integrity of that particular dam.

This probably is also an eye-opener to all the dams that we have across the country, especially now that the rains have been what we've never seen in many, many years.

Have you had a chance to speak with the family that owns this farm? I mean, people are saying that they haven't even offered a statement of condolences to all the people who have lost their lives and their homes and their livelihoods, many of whom work on this farm.

I think it is important to note that this particular farm has been there for many years and it employs over 2,000 people from this same community.

They have been co-operating with us. They have given us full access to assess the dam and to be able to make judgments. And they also offered financial support.

I am convinced they are also in a state of shock and trying to get to terms with what has happened.

A child walks in his house, which was partly destroyed by flooding water after the dam burst. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

But there are people in this town who said that they had noticed that there were problems with the dam. There were cracks. They were very concerned. ... So why didn't the family heed any of those concerns?

Some members of the public are saying that they had seen maybe a crack here, a crack there.

Remember, it's only maybe 20 hours since it happened. So a lot of these things will unfold as we move on.

But we've asked members of the public who may have made these complaints to also come forward so that we can be able to make a good report.

An aerial view of rescue efforts near destroyed houses by flooding water. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

[There are] stories of entire families being wiped out and people losing their little bit of land they had to grow food on. They've lost their livestock. What are these people going to do?

These communities that are involved in this tragedy are largely what you may call low-income earners that work in the farms around there, and therefore financially, I would say they are a vulnerable group.

When this tragedy comes, definitely it adds to an already difficult situation.

So we will be appealing for help both to support them now and also to restore them to their normal livelihood so that they can be able to go on.

Where are they going to be staying tonight?

We have a school that we have converted for temporary shelter and it will be used for purposes of the children, the mothers and everybody else to sleep there, and food and other consumables will be provided. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters and Associated Press. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong.