NAIROBI, Kenya — A dam burst in western Kenya, destroying villages and killing at least 44 people, officials said on Thursday, after weeks of heavy rains that had brought flooding and other damage across the region.
“The water has caused huge destruction of both life & property,” Lee Kinyanjui, governor of Nakuru County, where the disaster occurred, wrote on Twitter. “The extent of the damage is yet to be ascertained.”
He visited two villages “that were swept away,” he wrote later. The authorities were doing their best to evacuate families and to provide victims with medical attention, he added.
Forty people were reported missing, and about 500 families were displaced, government and aid officials said. Four people were hospitalized, and 42 others were treated for injuries, Fred Matiang’i, Kenya’s secretary for the interior, said at a news conference on Thursday.
The casualty figures rose repeatedly on Thursday as search and rescue missions continued, and officials cautioned that it could be some time before they knew the full toll.
The flooding struck at about 9 p.m. Wednesday in and around Solai, a cluster of villages about 110 miles northwest of the capital, Nairobi. The Red Cross said the two villages hit hardest were called Energy and Nyakinyua.
The failed structure was a privately owned earthen dam on a large farm, according to local officials.
“Just a few days ago, the local residents complained that the walls were leaking and they could see cracks” in the dam, said Koigi Wamwere, a former lawmaker from the area. “They were saying, ‘Look, the walls are leaking,’ but nothing was done.”
“Part of it has to do with the weather,” he added, referring to more than a month of torrential rain that has drenched much of East Africa.
The resulting floods have killed at least 158 people and almost 20,000 farm animals across Kenya, displaced about 300,000 people and destroyed thousands of acres of crops, the Red Cross said. The agency has also reported about 100,000 people displaced in Somalia, and flooding in Ethiopia and Rwanda, as well.
The region faced a drought last year.
The flooding is the worst in Kenya since 2012, said Marshal Mukuvare, the regional disaster management delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Samuel Gachobe, who represents the Solai area in Parliament, said the government was trying to identify the missing from the dam failure, and was providing food, blankets, bedding and medical care to people who had fled. A command center was set up to coordinate aid and rescue efforts, he said in a statement.
Reuben Kyama reported from Nairobi, and Richard Pérez-Peña from London.