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September 22, 2018

Kerio Valley hit by rock falls as prolonged rains take toll

Some of the rocks that fell in Kerio Valley. /MATHEWS NDANYI
Some of the rocks that fell in Kerio Valley. /MATHEWS NDANYI

Rose Maiyo fled her Kapsegut home on the Kerio escarpment in Elgeyo Marakwet county after heavy rains caused earth cracks near her home. This came amid reports by the meteorological department that the downpour will continue until July.

With anguish in her face, she tried to calm her 10-month-old baby at the rocky, hanging valley, but the baby cried uncontrollably. We caught up with her in the morning, quivering after another night in the cold.

Local authorities say at least 400 villagers have fled their homes, fearing the cracks may widen and ignite rockfalls or mudslides, or worse still, a landslide.

Maiyo’s house is on the edge of a fault line that formed following five days of torrential rains. The young mother fled the village after the earth cracks left her house at risk of collapsing and falling, as heavy rains continue to pound the sloppy area.

“I fled the village after the cracks enlarged. My baby caught a cold after we spent the nights in bushes in safer areas since four days ago,” Maiyo said.

The rains have exposed the dangers facing residents living precariously in an escarpment full of imposing rocks held by loose soils.

“My cows are lying at a nearby road that has also been rendered impassable by the cracks. I am appealing to the government to help us,” Maiyo said.

In the neighbourhood, Nicholas Kipruto said his ageing mother’s house is now hanging dangerously between two fault lines. The elderly mother has resisted calls to move to safer ground at the Keiyo highlands.

“My mother has nowhere else to relocate to. She refuses to move because she fears to sleep in the cold. I fear her house will collapse if the rains continue,” Kipruto said. “The earth cracks have rendered this area inhabitable and locals have no alternative land.”

 

CALLS FOR RELOCATION

Local leaders, including Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono, are asking the state to relocate residents living on the escarpments. Rono said he will soon table a bill in the National Assembly to have the locals resettled and the escarpments turned to a forest.

Environment executive Abraham Barsosio, who conducted an assessment, said the faults have a 10km radius of Soy South ward, stretching from Kalwal to Turesia.

Barsosio told the Kenya Power company to pull down electricity lines in the area, saying several electricity poles are at risk of falling due to earth movements and hurting residents.

“We had plans to relocate residents to safer grounds, but we have discovered that some cracks have developed on the proposed grounds,” he said.

Reports by the county government indicate that Kapsegut, Kipkany Ilat and Anin are worst hit by fault lines and mudslides. Soy South MCA Jonah Tanui told residents to heed calls to move to safer grounds. He said leaders are meeting to seek a lasting solution to the problem.

In Cheptarit area of Keu location, residents say they have never witnessed rock falls. They are counting losses after rocks covered farms as run-offs washed away crops.

Kwambai Kibor, 93, is among the oldest persons in the location, but he recounts no precedent. “Such heavy rains have never pounded this area for over 50 years. I was born here and the rocks have never fallen down the escarpments, even with the highest rainfall,” he said.

“When I was young, my elders told me stories of rocks that fell before I was born. These are the most devastating rains.”

 

HUMANATARIAN AID

Keu chief William Mutwol recounted how he received phone calls minutes before 4am after heavy rains sparked a massive rock fall sweeping through farms. He said the rock fall destroyed four acres of a banana plantation.

“We are appealing for humanitarian help because the rock boulders destroyed food and caused panic among residents, who are fleeing the area to escape a catastrophe,” Mutwol said.

The boulders destroyed water pipes, leaving Chekilet Secondary School and Cheptarit Primary School without water. Resident Joseph Cheruiyot said the rock fall also caused a flash flood that destroyed many houses. He said at least 500 families lost property during the incident.

“Residents are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Blankets and cooking utensils were washed away. We are lucky no one was killed,” Cheruiyot said.

Touring the area, Deputy Governor Wesley Rotich said there was a likelihood of waterborne diseases breaking out following the destruction of water pipes.

“The situation is dire. There is a risk of locals contracting cholera and typhoid,” Rotich said. He said the county government has invited the Kenya Red Cross Society to assess the situation and provide humanitarian assistance.

He said the boulders have blocked a road linking the Kerio Valley and major towns, making it difficult for farmers to transport mangoes to the market.

“These rains may not subside anytime soon. I appeal to residents to move to safer grounds to avert disasters,” Rotich said.

He appealed to the national government to offer emergency assistance, saying residents lost basic commodities during the incident. The deputy county boss blamed the destructive run-off on wanton destruction of forests in the county’s highlands.

“We support the ban on logging and we ask the government to extent it until all forests are fully rehabilitated,” Rotich said.

 

DEATH TOLL RISING

Area county commissioner Abdullahi Galgalo urged residents of landslide-prone areas to move to safer grounds. He cautioned drivers against driving across swollen rivers during the ongoing rains.

At Anin area in Keiyo North, a standard six pupil died after raging waters forced walls of their house to collapse, falling on her while still asleep in the wee hours of the morning.

Area deputy county commissioner Joseph Chepkwony said the girl died while neighbours were rushing her to Iten County Referral Hospital. He said efforts to save the Rimoi Primary school pupil’s life were hampered by impassable roads.

“Earth cracks have emerged in several sections. Other areas have sunk and there are fears of a landslide,” Chepkwony said.

A middle-aged man was swept by raging waters after he attempted to cross river Mon in Marakwet East on motorcycle. His body was found 20 hours later near River Kerio.

In Marakwet West, residents of Kaparkinam village, Chesuman location, are living in fear as a huge rock moved several metres down the sloppy Kerio escarpment due to the loosening of soils after heavy rains.

“The huge rock may fall and flatten houses belonging to 19 families. We appeal to the government to blast this rock before it causes a disaster,” a villager only identified as Kapmaina said.

Transport on the Iten-Tambach road was paralysed for at least 10 hours after mudslides and rock falls blocked a section of the road in Tambach.

Agriculture executive Shadrack Yatich said the county will deploy agricultural extension officers to monitor and stop poor farming activities on the escarpment.

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