Flash floods and a landslide in central Kenya killed at least 45 people and injured over 110 others on Monday as floodwaters swept away houses and cars in the town of Mai Mahiu, the government said.

Police initially blamed the flooding on a burst dam, however the ministry of water later said it was caused by a river tunnel under a railway embankment becoming blocked with debris.

“The water (eventually) swept the railway line and started moving downstream with a very high speed and velocity causing destruction of property and loss of lives,” the ministry said. Two local residents confirmed the water ministry’s account.

“While 45 bodies have already been retrieved along the path of the flash floods and the landslide, search, rescue and recovery is ongoing,” interior minister Kithure Kindiki said in a statement.

Footage showed a large section of rail track, embankment and trees swept downhill. Hours after the rain had let up and floodwaters began to recede, local residents pulled motorcycles and household belongings from the mud.

Joel Kuria, a farmer, was awoken by screams and the trembling of the house he shares with his wife and two children.

“It was very dark, but we managed to leave the house in time before the gushing waters swept away everything including our livestock,” he told Reuters from where he was camped out in the town centre.

“The grumbling sound was scary and was worsened by screams of victims being washed downstream.”

The deaths have brought the overall toll across Kenya from heavy rains and flooding since last month to over 140. More than 185,000 people have been displaced.

In the capital Nairobi alone, close to 10,000 people have had to leave their homes, President William Ruto told Reuters in an interview, describing all those affected as victims of climate change.

TOLL COULD RISE

Road and Transport Minister Kipchumba Murkomen told reporters said he feared the death toll in Mai Mahiu would rise further.

Dozens more have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced by intense downpours in other East African countries, including Tanzania and Burundi.

East Africa was hit by record floods during the last rainy season in late 2023. Scientists say climate change is causing more intense and frequent extreme weather events.

The Kenya Red Cross said on X that its personnel had retrieved two bodies after a boat capsized late on Sunday in the Tana River, in eastern Kenya’s Garissa County. Twenty-three people were rescued from the same incident.

A road underpass at the international airport in the capital Nairobi was flooded, and hydroelectric dams were filled to capacity, a government spokesperson said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was saddened by the loss of life and damage caused by flash flooding in several parts of Kenya, his spokesman said in a statement.