Couple mourns 7 children as Pokot landslide toll rises to 42

Monday, November 25th, 2019 00:00 | By
Mary Lorenyen and her seven-year-old daughter Petricia Lorunok at Kapsowar Referral Hospital. PD/James Gitaka

Kaapel Yaranyang’ stares at what remains of his village, enveloped in painful forlornness and tries to come to terms with the tragedy in which 42 people are feared dead. 

He lost seven children in the landslide that visited death and utter destruction in West Pokot County on Friday night.

He is among hundreds of others, who survived the landslide that crept in the dead of the night and robbed them of their loved ones and property. The tragedy visited untold misery and desperation in three villages.

“It was a difficult moment for us as we watched helplessly as raging floods and mudslides sweep away our children alongside other villagers downstream,” he said at a makeshift camp where survivors were moved to as they awaited news on their loved ones.

For Yaranyang’, 45, last Friday is a day he will never forget. On this day, he together with his family left their home in Muino village of Tapach ward, Pokot South constituency for a church function, a few kilometres away. 

But just before midnight, the father of eight asked his seven children to return home. That was the last time he would see them alive. Yaranyang’ remained behind with his wife Chepkoech and their one-year-old child at the night vigil in the church, unaware that by asking his children to go back home, he had inadvertently sealed their fate. 

The seven children, aged between four and 13, were among the more than 42 people feared dead as a result of the deadly floods accompanied by mudslides that hit the county.

With tears rolling down his cheeks, Yaranyang’ narrated how a few minutes to 3am they received information that several villages had been submerged by rainwater and scores of people swept away. He, his wife and many villagers ran back to try and rescue their kin.

“I immediately told my wife that we leave the kesha (prayer vigil) so that we could go home and check on our children,” he said.

But what they met in the darkness was unbelievable—utter destruction. Their home and many others were no more; they had been flattened by the raging flood.

Shocked, confused and drenched to the skin, they prayed and hoped that God had spared their children. But as reality dawned on them, they learned that their seven children were among victims of the floods and mudslide tragedy that had hit the village.

The couple could not even identify where their home had been as raging floods had swept it downstream—along with their children.

On Saturday morning, a distraught West Pokot Governor John Lonyapuo said nothing like that had ever happened in the area before. He put the death toll at 51, saying the toll could rise as more bodies were being pulled out of the mud-filled debris.

Heavy rains cut the Kitale-Lodwar road and rendered others impassable even as it made rescue operations impossible.

Lucky escape

At Nyarkulian village, one of those hit by the landslide, hundreds of helpless families, especially women and children stood on a rocky cliff and stared in shock and silence at what used to be their homes. The mounds of soil that precariously hung over the village were evidence of the night horror.

Siakilai Murkomen, 78, is among those lucky to be alive. She was startled by the rumbling noise in the middle of the night— and by some act of providence, she managed to grab her grandson and scampered through the window to safety. The widow says she is lucky to be alive but has no idea what the future holds for her after losing all her earthly possessions—the house and goats were swept downstream.

The once-thriving villages perched on the steep valley and bubbling with life was yesterday a scene from hell.

The furious floods as on evil mission had swept away scores of families, houses and livestock. In its wake, there was desolation and pain for survivors who watched as rescuers pulled body after the body of their loved ones.

Another survivor, William Lokapel, 34, recalled how he was rescued from the jaws of death by neighbours from a mudslide that swept away his three children aged three, five, and eight at Parua village.

He painfully narrated how he helplessly watched his children being swept away as they cried to him to save them. He says the terrified cries of his children are still ringing in his ears as he stares at what remained of his two bed-roomed grass-thatched houses.

“The floods covered my body to the neck, making me unconscious. I was saved by neighbours who carried me to the high ground from where Kenya Red Cross officials took,” he said from his hospital bed, with tears in his eyes.

West Pokot County Commissioner Apollo Okello said more than 30 bodies had been swept away and efforts to recover them were being hampered by bad weather and other logistical challenges.

“There is no way we can access the affected villages as the floods and mudslide have swept away all bridges, rendering rescue and relocation of the victims to safer places totally impossible,” he said.

Okello said Pokot South and Sigor constituencies along the Kerio Valley were the worst hit, as the floods and mudslide marooned several villages.

Death toll

Speaking to journalists yesterday, Lonyagapuo appealed for support and aid from well-wishers, saying the death toll could rise from the current figure as more bodies were yet to be recovered.

“Several bodies are still stuck in the mud while others have been swept away and rescue teams cannot access the sites due to bad weather and poor road network,” he said. 

He has asked the national government to move with speed and provide choppers to rescue and relocate villagers to the escarpment where they would be safe.

The governor cited Muino, Nyarkulian, Parua villages as the most hit, noting that residents were unable to move to safer places.

“The only means to evacuate and relocate affected families is by choppers since no vehicles can access the villages because all the bridges were swept away,” said Lonyangapuo.

The pounding rains have also paralysed the movement of goods and services along Kitale-Lodwar highway after a section of the road near Ortum trading centre was completely cut off.

People seeking to travel from Kitale to Lodwar and from Lodwar to Kitale were stranded. A high-powered team from Kerio Valley Development Authority travelling from Eldoret cut short its tour of Wei Wei irrigation projects in Sigor constituency.

Traders transporting perishable goods from markets in Kitale and Eldoret en route to Lodwar asked the national and county governments to open the road saying they were incurring huge losses.

“We have been stranded here at Sebit road for the whole day with our perishable goods in lorries destined to Lodwar town,” said Alex Kangogo.

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