NAIROBI: The death toll from a grisly road crash in western Kenya has risen to 49, a government minister said Saturday, as rescuers worked to clear the wreckage where more victims are feared trapped.
In one of the deadliest accidents in Kenya for several years, a truck carrying a shipping container veered out of control and ploughed into multiple other vehicles and people at a busy road junction on Friday evening, police said.
“Unfortunately we lost 49 people in an accident here in Londiani,” Transport Minister Kipchumba Murkomen told reporters during a visit to the scene of the disaster.
“Investigations have been launched to establish the cause of this accident but we urge drivers to be cautious and follow the rules,” he added.
Rescuers have resumed a search for victims of the crash, which occurred on a highway between the lakeside town of Nakuru and Kericho, an area known for its lush tea plantations.
“The search has resumed and we want to remove two of the bodies in the wreckage, we don’t know if they are more,” Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Abdi Hassan said.
He said more than 30 people were also injured when the truck rammed into cars, minibuses, boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) and market stalls at the teeming Londiani junction.
Footage from the scene late Friday showed the overturned truck and the mangled wreckage of multiple vehicles, doors torn off minibuses and debris strewn across the road, as rescuers worked under pouring rain.
Officials had given a death toll of 48 late on Friday. The fate of the truck driver was not immediately clear.
Kenyan leaders including President William Ruto expressed their condolences after the accident and Londiani was trending on social media, with many people posting sombre pictures of a candle next to the word Londiani on Twitter.
“The accident happened in a flash, many of them had no time to escape,” said one witness, Joel Rotich.
“There was a lot of confusion because people were screaming all over and everyone was running after the accident.”
Murkomen said on Saturday that the government planned to organise for street traders to move from roadside areas to designated markets in a bid to avoid such catastrophes in future.
He also called for increased safety measures at the site of the accident and for long-distance truck drivers to ensure they have proper rest breaks and also take refresher courses.
According to figures from Kenya’s National Transport and Safety Authority, at least 21,760 people were involved in road accidents last year, including 4,690 who died.
Last July, at least 34 people perished when a bus plunged into a river at a notorious blackspot in central Kenya, while a bus crash in October 2018 in Kericho county claimed the lives of 50 people.
In a speech in December, Murkomen blamed human error for much of the carnage on the roads, including drunk driving, speeding, fatigue and dangerous overtaking.
The World Health Organisation said in September last year that Africa has the highest road traffic fatality rate in the world, with more than 800 people killed every day.