May 11 (UPI) — A dam on a Kenya farm that burst this week and killed at least 45 people was illegally built, a government spokesman said Friday.
The dam was one of several on the Patel Coffee Estate farm near Solai, 120 miles from Nairobi. A Kenyan Water Resources Management Authority spokesman said none were built with a permit, and were not authorized or inspected by the government.
Farm manager Vinod Jayakumar insisted the dams were not built illegally.
“The farm has existed for over 60 years and the dam which collapsed has been there for almost 20 years. Just because it happened, you can’t say it is illegal,” he said.
He called the dam’s failure a natural disaster caused by overflow from rivers in the nearby Dundori Forest.
The walls of the dam burst Wednesday following heavy rains, sweeping away hundreds of homes and affecting about 2,500 residents of the area. A police commander announced Friday the death toll had grown to 45. An earlier police report said about half the victims were children.
Kenyan Red Cross spokeswoman Noellah Musundi said about 450 homes were destroyed.
An 18-million gallon wave of water, about five feet high and a quarter-mile in length, poured from the damaged dam onto the homes below.
Officials said floodwaters swept away power lines, homes, buildings and a school. About 200 Kenyan soldiers were called in to help with search and rescue efforts.
“Yesterday we were recovering bodies that were on the surface,” a Red Cross volunteer said. “But now [the soldiers] have begun digging into the mud searching for more victims.”