• ashirk@gmail.com
  • Kijabe, Kenya
On Floods

On Floods

During the three weeks we were in America, and after we returned to Kijabe, it rained. Hard. 26 inches in April, the most recorded since the RVA folks started keeping track in 1986. In the steep ravines of the forest around us, massive rains created massive landslides. One ravine, in particular, led to a popular hiking spot called Dark Tunnel, a path for water to flow under the railroad tracks and down into the waterfalls closer to us (where many of you have hiked if you have come to visit us).

The weekend of April 27th, mudslides and debris clogged the tunnel, creating a massive lake too big for the retaining embankment to hold. The whole area exploded around 3am on the 29th, sending a wall of water two miles through the forest and into the valley below, washing away homes and people in complete destruction.

Our houseworker Ruth lives just above the path of the flood. She said it sounded like an explosion, then the sound of a coming train. In the moonlight, she could see an entire forest push past, then an ocean filled what had been a small riverbed up to a quarter-mile wide and twenty feet deep.

Some hours later the water receded, leaving nothing in its wake. More than seventy people died, many friends and relatives of those who work at the hospital and school in Kijabe.

The rain abated, allowing for rescue and recovery efforts, then returned in power, 5 inches on Thursday and 2 more inches on Friday, triggering a mudslide near RVA that skirted the edge of campus, tearing out the fence and requiring midnight evacuations on that side of campus. Fortunately, no one was hurt and no buildings were destroyed, but the area below and through the dukas (shopping center) and matatu (minibus) stage is still filled with mud and debris.

Our family has remained safe and dry through all that has happened, and like many folks, we have tried to figure out how to best respond. Arianna worked and worked, covering NICU in addition to her responsibilities with Education. Even though the road remained open, many nurses could not access the hospital, so it was a very long weekend with very sick babies.

Madeline and her National Honor Society team gathered donations at school to distribute to survivors in the valley.

Once the area dried out a bit, I went by bike to survey the damage, talking to police, forest guards, and locals about what had happened and posting findings on Instagram with the local forest organization to share about dangerous areas.

Because the flood made international news, reporters reached out. I’m told that my videos made it onto BBC and Reuters, though I haven’t looked for them!

I asked the Kijabe Kahawa (local coffee shop) if we could work together on a response plan to pool resources from Friends of Kijabe and local donations. They made calls and put together a list of items – clothing and bedding from a local thrift store, rebuilding destroyed toilets at the local Kijabe primary school (where 500 kids attend), foodstuffs, and burial costs (coffins) for 8 people who were members at a local church. We’ll likely still have more money left over after these first purchases to continue to help in the ongoing recovery.

Forests and Floods
by David

The day the mountains crumbled
Many living below were washed away
The deep ravines were puzzled by our tears
“How else do you think we came to be here?”

Blue rivers turned to brown oceans, full of debris,
Then returned as clear streams, fed by deep springs.

The volcanoes with their massive
Mute crater mouths
Did not speak,
They need no words to say:
“I am beautiful.
I am fearful.”

Survivors looked up to the hills in worry.
Looked up further still, seeking divine protection.

Scripture begins with violent waters,
Ends with a peaceful river, lined by trees.
May this place, once and still beautiful,
Despite deep scars,
Follow the pattern of destruction, then resurrection.

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