Kenya: Nyeri Farmers Worried as Spilt Diesel Destroys Crops

People living along the newly rehabilitated Nyeri-Nanyuki railway line have expressed safety concerns after a cargo train derailed on Monday and dumped thousands of litres of diesel on their farms.

The train derailed at Ruthagati village in Mathira West sub-county.

The diesel that gushed from one of the tankers flowed into neighbouring homesteads and farms, more than 300 metres from the scene and damaged food crops and other vegetation.

A spot check by Nation established that farmers in the area are counting losses after their crops started withering after getting into contact with the fuel.

Mr Paul Muriithi, a farmer and businessman whose farm is about 300 metres from the scene of the accident, was on Wednesday trying to quantify his losses after his coffee trees and other plants started turning yellow.

The fuel had flooded his farm and some landscaping work he was doing to establish a hotel was also ruined.

"On Tuesday, I was called from Karatina where I was attending to some business and was informed that a train had derailed. The stream of fuel was headed towards my homestead and on arrival, I was shocked to find the farm flooded with what smelled like diesel. A day later some crops have started changing from green to yellow," he lamented.

Mr Muriithi said he had for a long time been concerned about the safety of the residents after noting that the train passes there almost on a daily basis sometimes ferrying more than ten tankers containing hundreds of thousands of litres of fuel.

Firefighting engine

"I couldn't imagine what could have happened if the fuel was the highly inflammable petrol. Imagine a family is busy in the kitchen and petrol suddenly flows in. It could have been a disaster of unimaginable magnitude taking into account that the area is densely populated," he said.

According to witnesses, the train was towing two tankers when the accident occurred at around 5pm.

Witnesses said one of the tanks went off the truck and overturned, spilling thousands of litres of fuel.

"We heard a loud screeching sound then a bang and as we went to look what was happening, one of the tanks was upside down with the content gushing out, forming a stream," said a resident, Ms Jane Wambura.

The train had left Karatina railway station some 20 minutes earlier before the accident.

No injuries were reported in the accident.

Police from a nearby post were called in and played a night-long hide-and-seek game with villagers armed with jerrycans to prevent them from scooping fuel from the derailed train.

A firefighting engine was also on standby in case of a fire outbreak.

Nyeri county director of the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) Isaiah Kyengo said that he did not have the latest update on the incident because the information he had was that there was no oil spill during the accident.

"I have not visited the scene yet but I was informed there was no spillage; the Kenya railway managed to prevent the oil spillage and put the content in another tanker, however, I will investigate and come with the correct information," Mr Kyengo said.

And speaking with Nation on phone, outgoing Nyeri county director of Nema Ms Nancy Muui said when such incidents happen, those transporting the fuel should be held accountable for any losses and damages.

"Apart from being a threat to human life, oil spills also affect the well-being of the ecology if it happens on a large scale and those transporting the commodity should be accountable," she said.

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