Kenyans have role to play in preventing deaths by heavy rains

A motorist wades through a flooded street following heavy rains in Nairobi, March 15, 2018. /COURTESY
A motorist wades through a flooded street following heavy rains in Nairobi, March 15, 2018. /COURTESY

Kenyans need to take initiatives to help avert deaths and other trail of damages caused by heavy rains wreaking havoc across the county

The heavy downpour, which is expected to continue up to June, has forced people to deal with floods, traffic snarl-ups and even death.

In Kitui, five people died after their lorry was swept while trying to cross the swollen River Enzui in Kitui.

Two other people, including a class six girl died in Kajiado following the rains. The pupil died after being swept away while crossing a stream.

During these incidents, authorities charged with the responsibility of protecting the citizens have been caught napping, despite the weatherman earlier foretelling that the long rains are likely to start from March until June.

In major towns like Nairobi and Mombasa, there are marginal attempts to unclog the already-derelict drainage system.

As a result, Kenyans are finding it easy to point accusing finger to the ill-preparedness of these authorities in dealing with the calamities.

But one thing that the whole world agrees is that safety begins with everyone.

As authorities are trying to put their acts together, each person can play a role in improving their personal preparedness to deal with common emergencies around them.

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The effects of heavy rains in Athi River, Machakos County, March 15, 2018. /GEORGE OWITI

FLASH FLOODS

For instance, those living in flood-prone areas can take necessary steps like moving to safer grounds, reinforcing weak walls and unblocking household drainage systems.

However, the only noticeable preparedness step taken by many Kenyans whenever heavy rains are expected is the buying of gumboots and umbrellas from the streets or supermarkets.

The citizens who bear the biggest burden of loss during rain-linked calamities can make a difference despite government having primary responsibility to protect civilians.

A vital first step is to inculcate the culture of patience and “safety first” while avoiding risky behaviours like walking in floodwater.

It is worrying that most of the flood deaths reported in the past occurred because people underestimate the strength of moving water, and ignore simple safety advices with fatal consequences.

For instance, pedestrians and motorists are swept while attempting to cross swollen rivers that overflow over bridges, despite knowing that others have died in similar circumstances in the past.

They are senselessly walking or driving to their deaths, instead of being patient for water levels to subside.

Walking in floodwaters is dangerous, not only because of the likelihood of being swept downstream; you can also get contamination by raw sewage or electrocuted by electrically charged waterway. Venomous snakes may also bite you!

In rare occasions, you may be caught up in the middle of floods, and have to move in water. In such as situation, walk where the water is not rising above your knee level. You can use a stick to check the ground in front of you, as water can be much deeper than it appears.

For those evacuating in a car, drive through as little water as possible, and take the shortest route to a safe parking.

Without hesitation, abandon your car immediately if it stalls in rapidly rising waters, and climb to higher ground. Your life is more important and irreplaceable, unlike your car.

While escaping, the car door may not open due to pressure from the water outside. For this reason, quickly use the windows to escape before the electronic system fails.

When it comes to giving first aid for a near-drowning casualty, check for breathing and other signs of life.

If the victim is unconscious but breathing, lay him in a slightly tilted position, with the head and mouth on the lower side to allow water drain off by gravity. Be ready to resuscitate in case they are not breathing.

Do not press the victim’s stomach to drain swallowed water. This may force water to block the lung vessels, preventing intake of oxygen.

In cold weather drowning, remove the victim's wet clothing and cover with a blanket or worm clothing. To boost warming, you can give them chocolate or hot drinks, but not energy drink.

COLLAPSING BUILDINGS

Collapsing structures is another calamity which people need to watch out for during the rainy season. The incidents are likely to occur in urban areas like Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisii and Kisumu, where similar incidences have occurred in the past.

Most of these structures cave in due to poor workmanship or use of substandard materials that cannot withstand seepage from heavy rains.

The developers also change the approved designs to accommodate their own selfish interests, endangering the lives of tenants.

To curb this menace, the Government needs to enforce policies and laws controlling urban development, especially those close to waterways.

However, the enforcement has been met with minimal success. But as the Government gets its act together, everyone needs to play their part.

So, before getting buried in the debris, here are the tell-tale signs of imminent structural collapse to worry about and vacate:

1. Building constructed too close to a waterway

2. Structural cracks, mostly leading to foundation

3. Flats that go beyond four flours without an elevator

4. Water seeping from walls and ever-flooded basement

5. Weird crack sounds, especially during strong winds

6. Flats partly occupied and upper floors under construction

When you notice that the wall is caving in and you cannot get out in time, position yourself next to a sturdy piece of furniture such as heavy desk, sofa, or large overstuffed armchair, lying on the floor in foetal position.

The furniture may be able to support the weight of a collapsing wall and create a triangular space adjacent to it where you will be relatively safe. In this position, you may get injured, but chances are that you are likely to come out of the wreckage alive.

Once the building has finished collapsing and there is no more movement, then it is time to carefully assess the situation.

If you have an electronic device of any kind with a cellular signal, use it. If not, stay where you are and call loudly for help.

However, do not waste all of your energy screaming after you see that nobody is coming anytime soon. Instead, conserve your energy and use it only when you hear a rescue team is near.

If you find that you are having trouble breathing, cup your hands over your nose and mouth and breathe into them.

In case you are wounded, stop the bleeding by applying pressure using your hand, bandage or clean cloth.

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A flooded section of Jogoo Road in Nairobi following a heavy downpour on March 15, 2018. /CORNELIUS MWAU

ELECTROCUTION

Electrocution is also common during heavy downpours. It is typically caused by pools of water, fence, or clothesline accidentally connected to live electricity wires.

To prevent such chances of being electrocuted, never forget that water and electricity don't mix.

Therefore, avoid needless touching of streetlight pole, wired fence or clothesline which is likely to be connected to electricity in a nearby building.

Also avoid stepping on pools of water without insulated shoes like gumboots.

If you notice a person being electrocuted, never touch them as you will get an electric shock too.

Instead, use a non-conductor material like dry wood or plastic to remove the connection to electricity and switch off power where possible.

People who have been electrocuted are likely to have breathing problems and heart failure. After power is switched off, give two rescue breaths followed by 30 chest compressions if there is no breathing.

Other soft tissue injuries can be treated by detecting entrance wound, usually dry and leathery, and exit wound, which is much larger, and cover the burn with dry, loose, non-sticky dressing.

The severity of an electrocution injury depends on the voltage. Shock from high voltage power lines can jump up to 18 meters and will nearly always kill instantly.

In such high voltage electrocution, call Kenya Power on 95551 or 0703070707 to switch off power before starting to offer first aid.

LIGHTNING

Another likely cause of electrocution during stormy rains is lightning strikes, which is very common in western Kenya, especially in Kisii, Kisumu, Kakamega and Bungoma counties.

To escape such strikes, try to find shelter in a building during a lightning storm, and if indoors, keep away from windows.

If no shelter is available, try to be the lowest object around, but avoid sheltering under lone tree or stepping on water.

First aid for lightning and electrical burns are similar, and all the injuries should be evaluated in hospital for possible damage to internal organs like lung or heart.

ROAD CARNAGE

Another danger that people have to contend with during periods of heavy downpours are road accidents resulting from poor visibility and slippery roads.

In these situations, motorists need to drive at a speed that allows them to spot hazards and react accordingly.

They should avoid dangerous overtaking and distracted driving activities such as using a cell phone or stealing a quick glance at an attractive pedestrian.

In addition, motorist need to desist from the temptation of driving on free gear to save fuel. It’s difficult to re-engage brakes or gears when free-wheeling downhill, leading to fatal accidents.

CHARCOAL JIKO POISONING

Finally, there can be avoidable instances of carbon monoxide poisoning, mostly from using charcoal jikos for warming an enclosed room on a cold night. The gas is lethal and termed as ‘silent killer’ because it’s invisible, odourless, and tasteless.

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