A dam has burst on a commercial flower farm in central Kenya after weeks of torrential rain, unleashing a “sea of water” that smashed into two villages, killing at least 47 people.
The private Patel dam burst its earthen banks on Wednesday evening in Solai, near the Rift Valley city of Nakuru.
The walls of the reservoir, situated on top of a hill in Nakuru county 190 km (120 miles) northwest of Nairobi, gave way as nearby residents were sitting down to evening meals.
Media reports said emergency workers had spent the night combing through engulfed houses to retrieve bodies.
Local police chief Japheth Kioko said on Thursday that the death toll could rise as more bodies are pulled from the mud.
“So far it is 47 dead. We are still on the ground,” the officials said. Dozens of children are among those killed in the devastating flooding.
Vinoj Kumar, general manager of the Solai farm, blamed the disaster on massive rainfall in a forest above the dam.
“In the past two days the intensity of the rain was high and the water started coming down carrying boulders and roots which damaged the wall,” he said. “The dam wall cracked and the water escaped.”
Nakuru governor Lee Kinyanjui said safety engineers had been sent to inspect three other dams to check for cracks or breaches.
"The water [from the dam burst] has caused huge destruction of both life and property. The extent of the damage has yet to be ascertained," the governor added.
Survivor Ngugi Njoroge said he and his family had been having dinner when there was a "loud explosion of water that washed away our home."
"I was with my parents and my younger brother. I don't know where they are. I was carried away by the water but I was lucky as I clung to a tree until the water subsided," he said from his hospital bed. "It was like hell on earth."
Miriam Karimi said she could not find any of her three children, including her four-year-old son.
"When we heard noises, we thought it was raining heavily nearby. I'm so confused. I hope they are alive," she said.
Earlier on Wednesday, before the dam burst, the Kenyan government said the rain had killed 132 people and displaced more than 222,000 in 32 counties since March.
Kenya, like other countries in East Africa, has experienced heavy rain over the past two months.
Authorities have distributed food, worth almost $6 million, and medicine to prevent and contain an outbreak of water-borne diseases, the Interior Ministry said.
The capital, Nairobi, and the Rift Valley in the country’s west are among areas where rain is expected to continue in the seven days to May 14, the Kenya meteorological department said on its website on Monday.