September 2, 2019 / 7:07 AM / 19 days ago

Flash floods kill seven people in Kenya's Hell's Gate park

HELL’S GATE NATIONAL PARK, Kenya (Reuters) - Flash floods killed six family members and their tour guide at Kenya’s Hell’s Gate National Park, the state-run wildlife authority said on Monday.

The incident occurred on Sunday in the Rift Valley, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) by road northwest of the capital Nairobi, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said on its Twitter account.

A Kenyan family of 13 had traveled from their homes in Nairobi and the western city of Kisumu for a holiday weekend on the shores of Lake Naivasha, one of the surviving family members told Reuters.

Although it had begun to drizzle when they decided to visit the national park’s gorge for a walk, park guides told them that the area was safe, said Ivraj Singh Hayer, 31.

When water began rushing through the gorge, some of Hayer’s family members managed to jump to one side while the flooding swept away others, including his wife, nephew, four other relatives and their guides, while other anguished relatives clung to the stone face of the gorge, he said. Two of those killed were children, he added, tears rolling down his cheeks.

“The guide was trying to save my nephew and they both slipped and were swept away by the floods,” he said. “For more than an hour the rest of us held tight before the water subsided and we managed to walk to safety.”

The bodies of those swept away were later found some 30 km from the scene, KWS Central Rift Assistant Director Aggrey Maumo told reporters.

The park is famous for its gorges, cliffs and steam plumes from geothermal activity underground, and in areas adjacent to it, the steam is harnessed to generate electricity.

The park has also been used as a location for films such as “Tomb Raider II:Cradle of Life”, the Kenya Film Commission says.

Gorges in the park are prone to flash floods and have in the past killed visitors. In 2012, floods killed seven who were part of a church group on a trek.

“We will not close the gorges ... This (accident) should not deter anyone from visiting this park,” he added.

A local community leader blamed the accident on the impact of human activities on the environment. Environmental degradation, mainly due to charcoal burning, has eroded the natural habitat, said Maenka Ole Kisotu.

“There is no vegetation here and once it rains the floods sweep anything on the way,” he said.

Additional reporting by George Obulutsa and Humphrey Malalo in Nairobi; editing by Darren Schuettler and Gareth Jones

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