Agony of Solai mothers search for their children

Noah Cheploen and Roy Lumbe @peopleDailyKe

As the rest of the world celebrated Mother’s Day, Teresia Njeri, 35, cut a lonely and distraught figure under a tree shade wiping away tears of the pain of losing her six-year-old baby and husband in the early Thursday morning Solai dam tragedy.

The grieving mother and widow is also weighed down by the uncertainty on the whereabouts of her little daughter, Mary Wambui.

For five days, efforts by the family to trace her after the disaster at Patel Farm in Solai which claimed the lives of 50 people and left more than 2,000 displaced, have not borne fruit Just like Njeri, Lokwonyang’a Sirikali, 60, is still trying to come to terms with the fact that her last born daughter, Jane Emeina, 30, is still missing together with her two children. Shock and grief is still palpable here.

Families have been separated by the grim reaper. Permanently. Speaking with difficulty, Njeri, who was found more than 500 metres away from her house, says she survived by clinging onto a tree branch; overcoming strong waves and chilling cold until help arrived.

She was in the house preparing supper for her four children and her 90-year-old father Stephen Mbugua when disaster struck. Her father, who was struggling with blindness, was found the following day. Dead. “He was blind. It’s sad I couldn’t help him,” says Njeri with tears rolling down her cheeks.

She adds that things happened so fast on that fateful night and there was no time to think or extend an helping hand to anyone. “It was horrible.

Our house was filled with water flowing in high speed. Within seconds, we were swept away,” she said. She was rescued three hours later together with her 14-year old son after rescuers heard her screaming. Though she is nursing injuries, the pain of losing her child is too much to bear.

“I had just enrolled her in nursery school and just like any mother, I had a lot of hopes in her,” she said at Solai Boys Secondary School where survivors have been given temporary shelter.

The body of her father, Mbugua, was moved to Nakuru Level Five Hospital Mortuary where 16 other victims are lying waiting for identification, postmortem and burial. Lokwanyang’a shares her pain and tribulations. It took a lot of prodding and encouraging words for her to open up. She says her daughter is still missing together with her husband Kamau and two children.

“Only two children escaped from this monster,” she says before she breaks into silence. She was a disciplined, hard working and responsible woman, she says of her daughter. Elizabeth Akiru, 35, is yet to trace her mother and her sister’s daughter, a Class Four pupil at Solai Nyakinyua Primary School.

This is the story shared by many women here. According to report given to us by Nakuru Level 5 hospital Medical Superintendent Joseph Mburu, out of 16 bodies being preserved at the facility, 10 are children below 10 years. With a capacity of 72 bodies, the facility has been stretched to the limit after last Thursday’s tragedy that once again exposed the country’s disaster preparedness.

Another woman Susan Kiarie told the People Daily she lost her husband and a son to the waters after they ran towards the direction of the waters to salvage some household items.

She says confusion and a moment of panic snatched away her husband and a four-year-old son who never reached their destination. According to her, as women celebrate Mother’s day she is only left to mourn the death of her family, who could have escaped if it were not for going back.

According to Jane Njagi, a counselor with the affected families says that grief and loss around motherhood, during mother’s day celebration can be painful, a reminder of what they have lost.

She advises that mothers who have lost their families need to be handled with more caution adding that they have to walk through with them even after the tragedy.

“Not everyone is celebrating Mother’s Day especially in Solai, bereaved mothers are the most affected and they need to be assisted as they process the same,” said Njagi.

Yesterday, Kenya Red Cross Emergency Operations manager Venant Ndighila told the People Daily that majority of survivors suffered mental shock emphasis ing the need for counseling.

“All these people are seriously traumatised because what happened was totally unexpected and the impact too big,” he said.

Apart from counseling survivors and the bereaved, Ndighila said Kenya Red Cross was also offering medical and ambulance services as well as other humanitarian assistance.“We are also offering tracing services by linking those who are lost with their families,” he added.

He said that the organization delivering food, bedding, mosquito nets, among other things in collaboration with other humanitarian organizations, volunteers well-wishers and government agencies.

At the same time, Nakuru county Governor Lee Kinyanjui has assured the affected families that his government will support them all the way. “We are with you in this. We will walk with you because we know the pain you’re going through,” he said when he visited the area yesterday.

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