Nairobi, Kenya - At least 32 people died after a dam burst in central Kenya, sweeping away their homes while many of them were asleep, police said Thursday.
After a severe drought, weeks of torrential rains in Kenya have led to flooding and mudslides that have left 164 dead.
The private Patel dam, used for irrigation and fish farming, burst on Wednesday evening in Solai, near the Rift Valley city of Nakuru, regional police chief Gideon Kibunjah told AFP.
"The search and rescue exercise is ongoing and more bodies have been retrieved. The number we have as of now is 32 people dead and several are missing," Kibunjah said.
"It is a disaster because most people were asleep when the tragedy occurred and their houses were swept away."
He said 36 people had been hospitalised.
A senior police officer at the scene, speaking on condition of anonymity, said emergency workers had spent the night combing through engulfed houses to retrieve the bodies of the victims and had only covered about half of the affected area.
"We found 11 of the bodies covered with mud at a coffee plantation and these are people who may have been escaping but could not make it due to the force and speed of the water from the flooded dam," he said.
"Most of them are women and children who could not have been able to run fast, and the elderly."
The dam is surrounded by an informal settlement housing casual labourers who work on nearby farms.
The Kenyan Red Cross estimates that up to 500 families were affected by the disaster, which took place some 150 kilometres (90 miles) northwest of Nairobi.
"We have set up a centre near the scene for families to report missing members to enable us to reunite them," said Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui.
Several villages were affected around Nakuru, Kenya's fourth-largest city, as well as two schools.
- Deadly rainy season -
Weeks of torrential rains in Kenya have led to flooding and mudslides countrywide.
Government statistics released Wednesday showed that more than 220 000 people have been displaced by flooding as heavy rains hit the country after three consecutive failed rainy seasons had left it in drought.
Since March, at least 21 000 acres (8 500 hectares) of farmland have been submerged in water with an estimated 20 000 animals killed, the Red Cross said last week.
The floods have also destroyed road networks in some parts of the East African country and in some cases the military has stepped in to airlift residents from submerged houses.
The Red Cross appealed last week for $5 million (four million euros) to help those affected.
The deluge has affected large parts of East Africa, destroying crops and killing farm animals after a severe drought which had sent food prices and inflation soaring and left millions in need of food aid.
In Rwanda 215 people have died because of floods and landslides since January, according to Philippe Habinshuti of the disaster management ministry.
In Somalia flooding has displaced tens of thousands, while torrential rains have also caused havoc in Tanzania and Uganda.