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Dozens killed after dam bursts in Kenya as weeks of heavy rain devastate region

At least 35 people have been killed and dozens of others are missing after a dam burst in southern Kenya, sweeping away homes and vehicles as the country grapples with weeks of heavy rains and devastating flash floods.

The incident comes as flooding has inundated large swathes of Kenya, killing at least 103 people and forcing thousands of residents from their homes since March, government spokesperson Isaac Maigua Mwaura said Monday.

In Mai Mahiu, Kihika said a serious situation was unfolding as floodwaters swept away people and homes.

“We are trying to get a handle on the situation but it’s a bit overwhelming but we’re doing the best we can especially to reach those who have been carried away because we hope that some are still alive,” Kihika said.

Access to Mai Mahiu, 20 miles north of the capital Nairobi, had been difficult as part of the road had been cut off from recent heavy rains, Kihika said. Teams are clearing debris as they try to reach survivors and pull out bodies, she added.

On Monday, the Kenya Red Cross Society said several people were taken to a health facility in Mai Mahiu due to the flash floods affecting Kamuchiri village.

“The floodwaters are reported to have originated from a nearby river that broke its banks,” the group said.

Kenya has registered heavy rain since mid-March but downpours have intensified over the past week, leading to mass flooding.

“Kenya is facing a worsening flood crisis due to the combined effects of El Niño and the ongoing March-May 2024 long rains,” IFRC Secretary General and CEO Jagan Chapagain said in a post on X, referring to the climate pattern that originates in the Pacific Ocean along the equator and impacts weather all over the world. “Since November 2023, El Niño triggered devastating floods and river overflows, causing more than a hundred deaths and widespread damage.”

The Horn of Africa, a region of East Africa that includes Kenya, is one of the most climate-vulnerable regions in the world — exposed to increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events.

While rainfall is set to fall in the region overall, as the world warms, the frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events is expected to increase, as a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture.

The deadly rains across the Horn of Africa at the end of last year, which killed at least 300 people, were about twice as intense as they would have been without climate change, according to a December analysis from scientists at the World Weather Attribution (WWA) initiative.

Those rains followed years of catastrophic drought, the worst in at least four decades, which affected many parts of Kenya, killing livestock and crops, and causing widespread hunger and water insecurity. This drought was made 100 times more likely by planet-heating pollution from fossil fuels, an April WWA analysis found.

Some 131,450 people have been affected as floods swept through almost half of Kenya.

Images and video from Nairobi, which has been badly impacted, show people stranded on rooftops or salvaging what they can from homes destroyed by the flash floods.

Other video shows vast flooding around the Tana River, with large parts of the surrounding area underwater. Roads, buildings and vehicles are submerged.

The Ministry of Education announced Monday that all primary and secondary schools would postpone the start of the new school term for one week until May 6.

On Sunday, the Kenya Red Cross Society said 23 people had been rescued and others were missing after a boat capsized at Kona Punda while heading to Mororo, Tana River County, on Sunday.

As of Friday, the group said it has rescued more than 300 people since the onset of the rain in March.

Heavy rains in East Africa have also affected Tanzania and Burundi. Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said on Thursday that at least 155 people have been killed by flooding in the country.

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