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Search for survivors after deadly Kenya dam collapse

Kenya's public prosecutor orders investigation after a commercial dam burst killed 50 people in Rift Valley.

Rift Valley

A search and rescue operation is under way in Kenya after a deadly dam collapse, which killed at least 50 people with dozens more still missing.

Water burst through the banks of the Patel Dam in Kenya's Rift Valley, about 150km north of the capital Nairobi, on Wednesday night, washing away almost an entire village.

With the death toll expected to rise, according to officials, rescuers continued their search for survivors on Friday. 

"The area of search is a long stretch from the dam area downstream," Pius Masaai, spokesman for the National Disaster Unit, said.

"We are also looking for the families of those missing and we have opened a tracing desk," he said.

Extent of the damage

According to Kenya's Red Cross, which along with the Nakura County disaster management teams rescued 41 people from under the mud on Thursday, close to 500 families have been displaced from the disaster in Solai town and the expansive Nyakinyua Farm.

"These families will need long-term assistance by both government and other humanitarian players," said Abbas Gullet, Secretary-General of the Kenya Red Cross, in a statement.

More than 20 of those found dead were children, according to sources at the Nakura County Health Ministry. 

Victims and survivors came back to assess the extent of the damage to their homes and search for relatives.

"It was a sea of water. My neighbour was killed when the water smashed through the wall of his house. He was blind, so he could not run. They found his body in the morning," said Veronica Wanjiku Ngigi.

"My other neighbours also died. All our houses have been ruined," the 67-year-old survivor told Reuters news agency.

Charles Kimono lost his 50-year-old sister Nancy Muna on Wednesday. 

"We heard about the flooding, came to look for my sister; we looked everywhere," he said. "We only found her body hours after the water receded."

Bernard Mankato, who works at a village clinic, tried in vain to clear the debris. 

"I lived here with my colleagues, there were many houses around us and this is where many people were swept away," he said.

Safety standards

Patel Dam is one of seven dams in the region owned by a private farm. 

Its main purpose was to irrigate the large flower farm, which also exports macadamian nuts, coffee, fruits and other crops. 

Kenya's public prosecutor has ordered the chief of police to launch an investigation into the accident and submit a written interim report within two weeks.

After the disaster on Wednesday, other dams in the region are now also being assessed.

Heavy seasonal rains and flooding since March have led to the deaths of 158 people with 80 injuries recorded countrywide, the Red Cross said.

The floods to date have left more than 225,000 displaced, according to the government. 

"The effects of the floods countrywide has now reached a proportion of a national disaster and its severity will be seen when the rains are over," said Gullet of Red Cross.

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