How Hell’s Gate gorges of death claimed more lives

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019 00:00 |
Red Cross officers and members of the public retrieve bodies of victims of the flash floods in the gorges of Hell’s Gate National Park in Naivasha.

A family outing at the famous Hells Gate National Park ended in tragedy when six members and their guide were swept away by flash floods on Sunday evening.

Seven members of the family from Nairobi survived the incident.

The accident happened seven years after a similar tragedy which claimed the lives of seven youths from Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) Nairobi who were swept away by floods.

Yesterday, survivors of the Sunday tragedy narrated their ordeal as police announced all the seven bodies had been recovered.

The victim's members arrived at the park in the afternoon hoping to have a fun-filled excursion in the scenic gorges, which are popular with tourists.

Safety assurance

“I was inquisitive about the safety but they (guides) assured us that it was safe,” recounted  Ivraj Singh Hayer, who lost four family members, including his wife.

Hayer said they were told guides would come to their aid in case of an emergency.

He said after paying the entrance fee, they were assigned a guide and they embarked on the tour at around 2pm.

Although it was drizzling, they were told there was no cause for alarm.

“After the assurance, we did not see a problem going down the gorges and we even met others on their way out. It all seemed safe until the unthinkable happened,” he said.

A family member of six victims of the Hell’s Gate tragedy is overcome by emotion. PD/KIRERA MWITI

Hayer said that at around 3 pm, they raised concern when the showers increased. But they were assured that everything would be fine.

“Suddenly, water started flowing downstream,” he recalled.

He said six of the family members jumped onto the wall of the gorge and were lucky the floods did not get to them, but the rest were swept away.

Hayer said he watched helplessly as his wife, cousin, nephew and niece were carried downstream by the raging water.

The guide’s attempt to save Hayer’s nephew cost his life as he also slid and fell into the water.

Distress call

“The guide was trying to save my nephew but they both slipped and were swept away by the floods,” he said.

“My niece and I clung to our driver who held on to stone as we waited for help,” Hayer told journalists.

The bodies were found yesterday about 30km from the scene of the tragedy following a search by local residents, officials of the Kenya Red Cross, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the police.

Hayer’s brother, Dilraj Singh, told of how he received a distress call from a family member and tried to call KWS but no help was forthcoming.

“We thank residents for their tireless efforts to trace the bodies,” he said.

Daniel Ohola and his friend Claire Munai, who had also travelled from Nairobi, recounted how they survived the floodwaters. The two were led by their guide to one of the gorges known as the Devil’s Bedroom during which it started drizzling.

One of the scenic but potentially dangerous gorges at the Hell’s Gate.

It was not long before they heard a loud roar which they thought came from the site of geothermal projects.

“There was noise from the upper side of the gorges, which we thought was from the geothermal wells. But as it became louder, our tour guide advised us to move up the walls as he suspected flash floods were on the way,” he said.

“In less than two minutes, water started flowing through the dry gorges. A minute later, our feet were inside a furious river. We climbed higher as we prayed the water level wouldn’t rise higher,” said Ohola.

They were later joined by other tourists in a shelter but as the water levels rose, they moved towards an escape route.

“We were terrified as we walked towards an exit. A woman who was at the tail end slipped and fell into the water. The next thing I saw five people being washed away. It happened so fast,” he recalled.

KWS Central Rift assistant director Aggrey Maumo, who led search efforts in the vast Suswa hills, said the tragedy occurred after heavy rains in the hilly areas of Long’onot and the stormwater found its way into the gorges.

Terming the incident as unfortunate, Maumo described the park as safe.

But yesterday, KWS announced the gorges had been closed until the ongoing rains subside.

A community leader Maenka Ole Kisotu blamed the floods on the destruction of the environment. He said massive environmental degradation like charcoal burning was rampant in the area.

“There is no vegetation here and when it rains, people die in floods. Even our livestock are not spared,” he added.

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