Anger mounts as people are left homeless and search for loved ones swept away in floods

The New York Times

When Julia Wanjiku put her son Isaac to bed last Sunday after a day celebrating his third birthday, she didn’t realize she was also saying goodbye.
As the water hit, her partner tried to hold on to their son but was overwhelmed — Isaac was swept away.
“We still don’t know where our son is,” Wanjiku told CNN.
She was among the survivors gathering at Ngeya Girls High School in Mai Mahiu on Tuesday.
Supported by her mother and her aunt, she wept as she said she was at least grateful she survived.
The flooding in Mai Mahui has claimed the lives of at least 52 people, 18 of whom were children.
Over just two days at the start of May, more than half a month’s rain fell on parts of the country.
He doesn’t know what he’ll do when the school reopens and he needs to find a new place to stay.

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Unbeknownst to her, Julia Wanjiku was bidding farewell to her son Isaac last Sunday when she put him to bed following a day of celebrating his third birthday.

Wanjiku heard her neighbors screaming early on Monday morning, and that’s when she woke up. About 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is the town of Mai Mahiu, which was being overrun by a violent river of muddy water that had burst through a blocked tunnel. Her partner attempted to hold onto their son as the water hit, but she was overpowered, and Isaac was carried away.

Wanjiku told CNN, “We still don’t know where our son is.”. She was present at the Tuesday gathering of survivors at Mai Mahiu’s Ngeya Girls High School. With the support of her mother and aunt, she broke down in tears and expressed her gratitude for having survived. Father Isaac was too distraught to say anything.

At least 52 individuals have lost their lives as a result of the flooding in Mai Mahui, 18 of them were minors.

This tragedy is being felt throughout large areas of Kenya, including Nairobi and portions of the well-known Maasai Mara wildlife reserve. Flash floods caused by weeks of exceptionally heavy rainfall have killed at least 210 people, left over 90 people missing, and displaced 165,500 more.

Kenya experiences long rainy seasons from March to May, so the country is accustomed to heavy rain at this time of year, but this year’s rains have been unprecedented in size.

In two days at the beginning of May, parts of the nation received more rain than they would have in over half a month.

A muddy brown swamp replaces the normally green, vegetated land in the county of Garissa, according to satellite images that show waters extending well beyond the banks of the swollen Tana River.

Experts claim that in addition to the underlying trend of human-caused global warming, the rain has been intensified by a combination of two natural weather patterns: El Niño and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole, which occurs when warmer waters are pushed west across the Indian Ocean.

Even though the floods have already caused enormous damage, the worst might still be ahead because rain is still falling on already-saturated land and swollen rivers.

Friday, Kenyan President William Ruto stated, “Meteorological reports paint a dire picture.”. As it approaches Tanzania’s coast, the nation is also prepared for the effects of Hidaya, which could be its first cyclone.

Many people’s lives have been completely turned upside down.

Kenya’s interior cabinet secretary, Kithure Kindiki, issued an order on Thursday stating that 178 dams and reservoirs “may spill over at any time,” warning local residents to evacuate their homes or face being forcibly removed. According to government spokesman Isaac Mwaura, approximately 100,000 people are impacted.

Ruto declared on Friday that schools, which have been closed due to flooding, will stay closed “until further notice.”. A few are serving as refuges for the displaced.

Mark Laichena, the chief strategy officer of Kenyan grassroots organization Shining Hope for Communities, which works in urban slums, stated that people in informal settlements are particularly hard hit.

He told CNN that “their food supply has been washed away or spoiled, their clean water has been contaminated, and healthcare is scarce.”. The level of devastation caused by these floods is unprecedented in recent memory. “.

Deathly floods followed a protracted drought.

To house the displaced and evacuated, the government has established more than 50 camps around the nation, and Mwaura stated that it intends to expand this number. In addition, it distributes food and other necessities. There will also be foreign support. Eighty tons of food aid have been promised by the United Arab Emirates.

But as the disaster grows larger, people are becoming more irate about how slowly the government is responding and about the lack of knowledge surrounding the fate of those who are forced to evacuate.

An attack on the government’s action was made on Thursday by the non-profit Human Rights Watch, which has its headquarters in New York.

The Kenya Meteorological Department warned as early as May 2023 that El Niño would intensify Kenya’s rainy seasons, but the government, according to the report, had “failed to put in place a timely national response plan.”.

The government must plan ahead and act quickly to mitigate the foreseeable effects of climate change and natural disasters, as the growing destruction makes clear, according to Human Rights Watch researcher for Africa Nyagoah Tut Pur.

A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, increasing the likelihood of dramatic floods. As a result, while East Africa may receive more rain overall as a result of global warming, the frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events are predicted to rise.

In addition to Tanzania, where at least 155 people have died, other East African nations have also been impacted by the heavy rains.

Strong criticism of the government was met with resistance from Mwaura, who asserted that it was making the best use of its available resources. For these humanitarian crises, “you can never be quite fully prepared,” he declared.

He insisted that the main topic of discussion should be who is most accountable for climate change. Despite contributing less than 4% of the world’s pollution that warms the planet, he claimed that “Western countries are wreaking havoc” and that African nations are suffering as a result.

A deadly flood has replaced a devastating multi-year drought in Kenya, a nation squarely at the center of the climate crisis, which scientists estimate was caused by climate change.

According to Joyce Kimutai, a researcher at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, “people are highly vulnerable to another extreme weather event when they are still reeling from one.”.

Mai Mahiu makes this vulnerability quite evident. Relics from the tragedy are still all over the town: twisted sheets of metal torn from house roofs, tangled piles of furniture, and SUVs flipped over and wedged in the earth. Retrieving corpses from the mud is still a daily task.

The majority of the population is made up of market traders and subsistence farmers. Many people who only had the clothes on managed to escape the flooding, including Githukuri Makau, a goat herder who is taking refuge at Ngeya Girls High School.

Makau claimed the floods destroyed his home. When the school reopens and he has to find a new place to stay, he is unsure of what he will do. He uttered, “I’m now left destitute; I have nowhere to go and no one to turn to.”. “.

Reports were provided by Laura Paddison from London and Larry Madowo from Mai Mahui. Reporting was assisted by CNN’s Mary Gilbert, Allison Chinchar, and Louis Mian.

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