Death toll from collapsed building in Nairobi hits 21

By Andrew Ross

NAIROBI, Kenya (AA) – Rescue teams in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi have been working around the clock searching for survivors since Friday evening when heavy rains caused a 198-room residential building to collapse.

According to the Kenyan Interior Ministry, so far 21 people have been confirmed dead, while 135 tenants were rescued through joint efforts by the Kenya Defense Forces Disaster Rescue Unit (DRU), the ministry’s National Disaster Operation Center (NDOC), the National Police Service, and the Kenya Red Cross. Sixty-five tenants are still unaccounted for.

Since Friday, heavy rains have been wreaking havoc in Kenya. According to the Red Cross, so far at least 20,550 people have been displaced across the East African country.

On Saturday, Kenyan leader Uhuru Kenyatta braced the harsh weather to visit the scene, where he told residents that the government will take care of those affected by the tragedy.

The Kenyan government put the blame on developers for building on a coastal river area, ignoring the country’s building safety standards. The building had been marked for demolition in 2014 but the order was never carried out.

Tom Amaule, a survivor of the tragedy, told Anadolu Agency that last time he spoke to his wife she was still trapped under the rubble.

“I spoke to her on Saturday. Her phone was on, she was still alive with the baby, she was not okay but she was alive,” he said. “I made so many calls but I think her phone ran out of power as today being Monday we haven’t heard from her.”

Amaule said that hundreds who were rescued are currently taking shelter at a camp in Huruma Estate — a residential estate located in the northeast of Nairobi — and are relying on the Red Cross and well-wishers to survive.

The building’s owner, Samuel Kamau, is currently in police custody. He surrendered to the Pangani Police Station on Monday after Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered his arrest.

Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero told reporters that corruption and tribalism are among the main reasons why buildings in Kenya claim the lives of innocent Kenyans.

“Title deeds have been handed out [through corruption] to those who want to build near riverbanks, and anytime we want to take action on such a building construction, some people start saying that the people who are taking action don’t come from the ethnic groups who own the property.

“Corruption is a problem. Last year near this place a house collapsed, some people intervened, and the person was never taken to court.”

This is not the first time that such a tragedy has occurred in the Kenyan capital. In the past, buildings marked for demolition have claimed innocent lives, with the government always pointing fingers at rogue engineers and developers. This time the county government has promised to axe county officials tasked with building permits.