The burst bank of the private Patel dam, used for irrigation and fish farming is seen in Solai, about 40 km north of Nakuru, Kenya, on May 10 Photograph:( AFP )
The raging waters wiped out two villages, a local resident said, while power lines were swept away, leaving many without electricity
At least 41 people died after a dam burst in central Kenya, police said Thursday, as residents described muddy waters ripping through their homes in what one survivor called "hell on earth".
After a severe drought, weeks of torrential rains in Kenya have led to flooding and mudslides that have left 172 dead.
The private Patel dam, used for irrigation and fish farming, burst its earthen banks on Wednesday evening in Solai, near the Rift Valley city of Nakuru, regional police chief Gideon Kibunjah told AFP.
The raging waters wiped out two villages, a local resident said, while power lines were swept away, leaving many without electricity. The search for victims was interrupted on Thursday afternoon by heavy rains.
"We have 41 people dead from this tragedy," Kibunjah said, adding 20 of them were children. He said the search was still going on.
"It is a disaster because most people were asleep when the tragedy occurred and their houses were swept away."
He said 36 people had been hospitalised.
'Hell on earth'
Survivor Ngugi Njoroge said he and his family had been having dinner when there was a "loud explosion of water that washed away our home."
"I was with my parents and my younger brother. I don't know where they are. I was carried away by the water but I was lucky as I clung to a tree until the water subsided," he said from his hospital bed.
"It was like hell on earth."
Miriam Karimi said she could not find any of her three children, including her four-year-old son.
"When we heard noises, we thought it was raining heavily nearby. I'm so confused. I hope they are alive," she said.
A senior police officer at the scene, speaking on condition of anonymity, said emergency workers had spent the night combing through engulfed houses to retrieve bodies.
"We found 11 of the bodies covered with mud at a coffee plantation and these are people who may have been escaping but could not make it due to the force and speed of the water from the flooded dam," he said.
"Most of them are women and children who could not have been able to run fast, and the elderly."
The dam is close to an informal settlement housing casual labourers who work on nearby farms.
The Kenyan Red Cross estimates that up to 500 families were affected by the disaster, which took place some 150 kilometres (90 miles) northwest of Nairobi.
Interior minister Fred Matiangi described the scene as "very tragic" and foreign diplomats issued statements of sympathy.
"We have lost a lot of lives and we are trying to see how we can help the survivors to go back to their normal lives in this village," Matiangi said while visiting the area.
Deadly rainy season
Weeks of torrential rains in Kenya have led to flooding and mudslides countrywide.
Government statistics released Wednesday showed that more than 220,000 people have been displaced by flooding as heavy rains hit the country after three consecutive failed rainy seasons had left it in drought.
Since March, at least 21,000 acres (8,500 hectares) of farmland have been submerged in water with an estimated 20,000 animals killed, the Red Cross said last week.
The floods have also destroyed road networks in some parts of the East African country and in some cases the military has stepped in to airlift residents from submerged houses.
The Red Cross appealed last week for $5 million (four million euros) to help those affected.
The deluge has affected large parts of East Africa, destroying crops and killing farm animals after a severe drought which had sent food prices and inflation soaring and left millions in need of food aid.
In Rwanda, 215 people have died because of floods and landslides since January, according to Philippe Habinshuti of the disaster management ministry.
In Somalia flooding has displaced tens of thousands, while torrential rains have also caused havoc in Tanzania and Uganda.