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Flash Floods in Kenya Kill 28 People - 2003-05-02

In Kenya, days of torrential rains have caused flash floods that have killed 28 people and displaced over 10,000. More rain is expected.

The latest victim of the heavy rains that are pounding Kenya was a recently elected member of parliament, James Mutiso.

His car was swept away by a torrent of water as he was driving home to prepare for a party to celebrate his election to parliament. Two passengers in the car also died. The accident occurred near Machakos, about 100 kilometers southeast of Nairobi.

Flooding is worst in western Kenya, where a major river has burst its banks, causing massive destruction.

Thousands of homes have been flooded, forcing families to flee to higher ground, carrying whatever belongings they can salvage.

Aid organizations are busy delivering emergency supplies of blankets, tarpaulins, biscuits and water purification tablets.

Officials of the Kenya Red Cross say they are unable to cope with all the people who have been displaced and are going to launch an appeal for more aid next week.

Early estimates said 10,000 people are in need of aid, but Anthony Mwangi of the Red Cross says he expects the figure to go far higher. "The floods have not receded and we're not looking in terms of [them] receding now," he said. "In fact, it's getting worse. So we are thinking to issue an appeal to various organizations to assist in supporting more of the people. Because 10,000 is just initially after a small assessment was made. We think that the number will soar in the next few days."

Homes, cars and crops have also been swept away. Many schools and businesses are closed and travel services have been suspended until the rains subside.

The frustrating fact for aid organizations is that such chaos - which occurs every year in western Kenya - could be avoided.

Mr. Mwangi of the Red Cross says more money has to be invested in the dikes to protect residential areas from flood waters. "This year, the dikes have broken because they have cracks," he said. "They are not clean. Now that we have been confronted with this situation I think the stakeholders have to come in, to make this a more permanent solution by fixing the dykes that constantly break because the floods are rather strong."

Dikes have to be constantly cleaned to remove bushes and weeds that grow on them, eventually cracking them. Mr. Mwangi says this is not being done.

Kenyan government officials met with aid organizations last year to discuss ways of preventing the annual flooding. One of the first solutions was to repair the dikes, but the organizations say they have been able to raise only a small fraction of the $1.5 million needed to repair them.