Mai Mahiu Tragedy: Stories of Loss and Resilience

by Amref Health Africa

Setting foot in Mai-Mahiu a day after the Old Kijabe River burst its banks, sweeping away hundreds of people, livestock, and personal belongings, felt like a bad dream. Overturned vehicles, destroyed homes, uprooted trees, scattered boulders, and distraught faces painted a grim picture of destruction and loss.

At the entrance of Ngeya Girls’ Secondary School, where Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) had been sheltered, a tense atmosphere and tearful eyes greeted us as we arrived to assist with the health needs of the displaced.

Residents reported that the disaster was caused by a burst in a blocked railway tunnel near Old Kijabe town. This tragic event will forever be etched in the minds of those who lost loved ones, homes, and everything they held dear. We then visited Naivasha Level IV Hospital, where patients, not only recuperating from physical injuries but also suffering from grief and depression, were receiving care. Survivors of the Sunday night horror were still coming to terms with the ordeal, which has been termed the worst occurrence of the heavy rainy season.

Mary Muthoni Mwangi, hospitalized at Naivasha Level IV, lost eight family members. She struggles to comprehend the tragedy, recounting that ten family members had gathered at her house to fundraise for her incarcerated son when the disaster struck. “My family had come together to help us find a way to free my son. They stayed after the meeting, unaware of the lurking danger. Why did it have to happen that day?” she asked tearfully.

Muthoni described the horrific incident: at 3:00 am, as she woke for her prayers, fierce flash floods, preceded by a grumbling sound, knocked over her house in Ruiru Village. In an instant, everyone was swept away. “A state of confusion engulfed my home. I panicked as I saw my grandchildren and ran to grab them before the raging waters reached us, but I couldn’t. We were swept upwards, almost touching the ceiling. I tried to hold onto floating furniture to stay close to them, but the water was too strong.”

At UME Funeral Home, we joined the County Director of Public Health, Dr Elizabeth Kiptoo, the County Nursing Officer, Mrs Wendy Tirop, and a team from Amref to assess the needs of families identifying their loved ones’ bodies and the state of the facility handling the remains. Healthcare professionals and funeral home staff shared their experiences of dealing with the death toll, which has taken a physical and psychological toll on them. They expressed frustration and burnout, aggravated by the tragic circumstances and their duties.

“Dealing with dead bodies is not for the faint-hearted. The situation is dire. This morgue is full and will remain out of service despite the desperate need. The death toll is very high, and we’re struggling to manage these bodies, some of which are already decomposing. We need humanitarian assistance to get these bodies to freezers,” said Dr. Titus Ngulungu.

To date, 315 people have died, 73 of whom are children, with 38 people still missing. Emergency teams have ceased active searches for survivors and bodies.

The Thrive project supported an emergency response to assess the health needs of those affected systematically. The floods caused destruction and made access to health facilities difficult, further straining the already limited healthcare access in Mai Mahiu. A Multidisciplinary Team worked with Community Health Promoters (CHPs) to assess health needs and maximize medical outreach through service integration. At the camp, the project facilitated 35 CHPs, 16 nurses, 3 nutritionists, five clinical officers, 2 lab technicians, four medical officers, and three consultants to support the displaced persons. Integrated services included screenings and referrals for hypertension, diabetes, asthma, HIV, TB, and treatment for minor ailments. A total of 271 people (114 males, 157 females) were reached.

The project also supported Mental Health Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) officers who provided individual and group support. A total of 667 people, including children, received MHPSS care services, including psychological counselling, emotional support during body viewings, play therapy for children, and debriefing sessions.

In partnership with 4life Solutions, we distributed 100 Sawa bags to ensure victims had access to safe drinking water and prevented the risk of waterborne diseases. This tragic event highlighted the urgent need for effective disaster response and support systems to aid those affected by such calamities.

Author: Billian Sawenja, Project Officer, THRIVE Project, Amref Health Africa in Kenya

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