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Nithi Bridge black spot still claims more lives

The Nithi Bridge still remains a black spot that continues to haunt travellers along Meru-Embu road ever since this section of the road was commissioned in 1985.

Although accidents have in the recent past been reported in many parts of the country, the ghosts of the infamous bridge held their horses until last Sunday, when yet another carnage struck along the ominous stretch.

Many lives of young and old alike have perished in accidents at the creepy bridge, while others escaped, albeit with permanent scars and broken limps, to tell their unfortunate experiences.

The abrupt, huge cone-shaped road bumps that one encounters as the vehicles approach the steep and long stretch from the Meru side and the conspicuous road signs that remind one of a deadly Nithi Bridge scare many. The bumps thrust those either dozing or those engaged in other deep matters back into earnestly engaging into praying to be delivered across the sinister bridge.

Fire Engines of the County Rescue team at the Sunday accident scene that involved a Kensilver company minibus.

And those passing through the Meru-Chuka highway for the first time keep on inquiring how far the infamous bridge is, even when they just leave Meru town, which is over 40 kilometres away.

Harriet Ndanu, a journalist trainee who recently travelled along the highway for the first time, narrated how it was a chilling experience when the matatu tout shouted that they were nearing Nithi.

“By the mere mention of Nithi, I shut my eyes as the driver of the Nissan Matatu kept on accelerating on the winding series of contours that merge into a steep descent that crosses a river over the ‘infamous bridge,” said Ms. Ndanu.

But curiosity soon took the better of her since it was her first time to travel from Chuka to Meru. She said she opened her eyes and had to keep on peeping through the glass window of the matatu to have a view of the infamous black spot.  But as the vehicle crossed the bridge, her phobia outweighed her nosiness, and she once again shut her eyes and began to pray for the intervention of her creator.

Deep in prayers, she was relieved when the tout whistled banging the vehicle, informing the driver to stop so that other passengers could alight at the bus stop at Marima on the opposite side of the valley, she recalls.

Last Sunday, four people died and several others were injured when the driver of a Kensilver Mini-bus lost control while descending the slope into the infamous spot that is between Chogoria and Chuka towns in Tharaka Nithi County. It is about seven kilometres from Chuka town and a major component in the name of the county.

The worst accident at the bridge since the commissioning of the road occurred on August 25, 2000. The black spot hit international media with headlines that at least 45 people were killed when a passenger bus plunged into the Nithi River in eastern Kenya’s Meru district.

Immediate reports were that up to 27 other passengers were rushed to Chogoria Mission Hospital, as the public joined police in a frantic search and rescue operation for the remaining passengers.

It was feared many more victims could have been trapped in the wreckage of the Tawfiq bus, which had an official capacity of 65, but was carrying more than 80 passengers at the time of the accident, the reports said.

The ill-fated bus was travelling from Maua in Meru along the Nkubu-Thuchi road, to the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa when it plunged off a bridge into the river. ‘The latest disaster brings to at least 158 the number of people who have perished at the bridge in the past five years,’ the international media quoted a Kenyan newspaper back then.

Many more accidents have occurred at the threatening bridge ever since. In August, 2020, a multiple accident killed one person on the spot and left nine others injured when the Tharaka Nithi County Fire Engine lost control, knocking several people who had come to rescue a bodaboda rider who had hit the side rails of the bridge.

But in July, 2022, a Modern Coast bus accident appeared to have been a repeat of the 2000 catastrophe. The misfortune occurred as the month of August 2022 approached and involved a coast-destined bus. It occurred on Sunday, July 24, 2022, at around 6.30 p.m. when the ill-fated bus hit a Nissan Xtrail and fell off the bridge into the river about 40 metres below.

On Sunday last week, Tharaka Nithi County Police Commander Zachaeus Ng’eno, confirmed that four people died in the accident, and several others were rushed to Chuka County Referral Hospital and PCEA Chogoria Mission for treatment. Those who perished had been moved to the same hospital’s mortuaries.

The police boss said that although the bridge is nicknamed a hot spot, the bus could have developed a mechanical problem, making it hard for the driver to navigate the steep slope as one approaches the bridge.

Tharaka Nithi County Rescue Team leader Alex Mugambi said the bus had 39 passengers and was travelling from Maua to Nairobi.

He said villagers and commuters who arrived at the scene helped their team to quickly remove the passengers from the wreckage and arrange for the injured to be rushed to the hospital.

The vicinity has featured in two other wrong reasons beyond the accidents that have occurred at the black spot. The bridge is between Mitheru and Marima shopping centres. It was in this area that a man was arrested for slaughtering a dog for consumption. Martin Munene, was arrested at his home in Karimba village, Magundu location, in the vicinity of the Nithi Bridge, for eating dog meat, attributing the action to biting hunger. This was in September 2019.

In a more chilling incident, a resident of the area took his affinity for meat to another level when he decided to kill his father for meat. Residents from the area were left in shock after a man from the area was suspected to have killed his father and eaten some of his body parts. He appeared in a Chuka court charged with murder.

But the place is not famous for only negative experiences. Mitheru is home to a restaurant that has, of late, become a household name for both visitors and area residents.

Hill Top is a unique eating out joint courtesy of its famous mouth-watering and sumptuous roasted meat within the vicinity of Chuka town and a necessary compliment to many hotels in Chuka town that offer only accommodation without catering services.

By David Mutwiri

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