Kenya floods hit Massai Mara game reserve, trapping tourists who climbed trees to await rescue by helicopter

Kenya floods hit Massai Mara game reserve, trapping tourists who climbed trees to await rescue by helicopter

Johannesburg — Tourists were evacuated by helicopter on Wednesday from Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve as devastating flooding in the east African nation hit the renowned wildlife sanctuary. More than 14 tourist camps were flooded, with tents being swept away as the Talek river burst its banks Tuesday afternoon.  

The Kenyan Red Cross said in a message posted on social media that it had rescued 36 people by air and 25 others by ground.

Tour operators said the Talek gate, one of the park’s entrances, was left impassable by the floodwaters and tourists were still waiting to be evacuated by helicopter.

Tour driver Felix Migoya told Kenya’s The Standard newspaper that both tourists and local staff were forced to climb trees Tuesday night to flee the surging waters as their camps were submerged. 

Kenya Flooding
A lodge is seen submerged in this aerial view of the flooded Maasai Mara National Reserve, which left dozens of tourists stranded in Narok County, Kenya, May 1, 2024.

Bobby Neptune/AP

Meteorologists have warned that heavy rains will continue to batter the region in the coming days. Scenes of utter devastation continue to unfold as houses, schools and entire villages are swept away.

El Nino weather phenomenon, have affected a vast swath of East Africa, killing dozens more people in neighboring Tanzania and at least a handful in Ethiopia.

Dam burst in Kenya leaves at least 42 dead
Search and rescue and evacuation efforts continue at Mai Mahiu and Naivasha districts after a dam burst left at least 47 people dead in Nakuru County, Kenya, April 29, 2024.

Gerald Anderson/Anadolu/Getty

Roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure have been swept away and the government has been criticized over slow rescue efforts.

As the water continues to rise, rescue workers with the Red Cross and the National Youth Service continued to fan out searching for bodies Wednesday as bulldozers scooped away mud and debris.

At shelters for those displaced by the floods, many people worried about loved ones still missing, last seen being washed away by the torrents.

Kenya Flooding
Kenyan President William Ruto gestures while visiting an area where floodwater washed away houses and people in Kamuchiri Village, Nakuru County, Kenya, April 30, 2024.

Brian Inganga/AP

President William Ruto, who’s called those affected by the floods “victims of climate change,” has ordered the military to join in the search and rescue efforts. He visited flooded areas Wednesday and promised the government would rebuild homes, but he warned residents, “rain is going to continue, and the likelihood of flooding and people losing lives is real, so we must take preventive action.”

He urged anyone still in “fragile areas that are prone to landslides and flooding” to evacuate to higher ground.