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12 killed, more than 20 missing in landslide in West Pokot

A section of a road that was swept away after heavy rains in West Pokot. /COURTESY

At least 12 people were killed in West Pokot when their homes were swept away in a landslide during ferocious rainstorms on Saturday.

Their homes were hit overnight Friday amid torrential rains, local government officials said.

“Twelve bodies have been recovered, and a search for more is going on,” West Pokot County Commissioner Apollo Okello told journalists on Saturday.

“The challenge we are facing is the heavy rains, but we are trying our best.”

Okello said that two children were pulled out alive from the smashed wreckage of their mud-covered homes.

“They have been rushed to hospital,” he said.

Rescue efforts have been delayed because roads have been cut and bridges closed after streams turned into raging torrents.

“Massive landslides reported in various areas of West Pokot County following heavy downpour,” Kenya Red Cross said in a message, adding that its emergency response teams had deployed to help.

But police officers on the ground said they feared the toll could rise. Rescue efforts to dig bodies out of the dirt continued.

It is not only Kenya that is affected. The landslides come amid weeks of destructive rains and flooding across East Africa.

Violent downpours have displaced tens of thousands in Somalia, submerged whole towns in South Sudan and killed dozens in flash floods and landslides in Ethiopia and Tanzania too.

Close to a million people in South Sudan alone are affected with growing fears of disease and starvation.

Floods hit East Africa regularly, but scientists say that it has been exacerbated by a powerful climate phenomenon in the Indian Ocean stronger than any seen in years.

The extreme weather is blamed on the Indian Ocean Dipole — a climate system defined by the difference in sea surface temperature between western and eastern areas of the ocean.

The ocean off East Africa is currently far warmer than usual, resulting in higher evaporation resutling in rain over the continent.

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