The ghosts of death seem to have found solace beneath Nithi Bridge along Nkubu- Thuchi road. Fatal accidents continue to occur at the black spot ever since the road was commissioned by the then President Daniel Arap Moi over 35 years ago.
The abrupt huge cone-shaped road bumps that one encounters as the vehicles approach the steep and long stretch from Meru side and conspicuous road signs that reminds one of a deadly Nithi bridge scares many.
The bumps thrust those either dozing or those engaged in other deep matters back into thinking about their creator and earnestly engaging into prayers so that they could be alive and see the range on the other side.
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 kilometers away.
Lucy Muthoni, a journalist trainee who recently traveled along the highway for the first time, narrated the chilling experience she underwent 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 Muthoni.
But curiosity soon took the better of her since it was her first time to travel from Chuka to Meru. 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, phobia outweighed her nosiness and she once again shut her eyes and began to pray for the intervention of God.
“Deep in prayers, I 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.
But like many others Ms. Muthoni has all the reasons to be scary of Nithi bridge. Many lives of young and old alike have perished in the ‘notorious bridge’ while others escaped albeit with permanent scars and broken limps that keep reminding them of their unfortunate experiences.
Indeed, the recent accident that claimed 35 lives when the Modern Coast bus plunged into the infamous river brings dark memories of a similar incidence that occurred 22 years back.
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.
The recent Modern Coast bus accident, just like the 2000 misfortune occurred on the eve of August 2022 and involved a coast destined bus. It occurred on Sunday July 24, 2022 at around 6.30pm when the ill-fated bus hit a Nissan Xtrail and fell off the bridge into the river about 40 meters below.
Tharaka Nithi County Commissioner Nobert Komora early the next morning, confirmed that 11 people survived the grisly accident and were rushed to Chuka General Hospital and PCEA Chogoria Mission for treatment and the dead had been moved to the same hospital’s morgues.
The commissioner said according to investigations, the bus could have developed brake failure making it hard for the driver to navigate the sharp corner at the bridge.
Eye witnesses said the bus was moving at high speed when it hit the guard rail and plunged into the river.
Chuka Based Traffic Commander Philip Akoro said the bus hit a Nissan Xtrail that was coming from the opposite direction before it lost control and fell into the river killing 24 people on the spot.
Eastern Regional Commissioner Evans Achoki at first confirmed that they had managed to account for 40 passengers out of the 45 that were said to have been on board.
The Kenya National Highway Authority (KenHA), the Kenya Red Cross, the Chuka County Rescue team and the Kenya Defense Forces helped to recover the bodies that we trapped underneath the river as well as the bus wreckage.
Just like in the 2000 incidence where several victims were trapped in the wreckage of the Tawfiq bus, which was reported to have been carrying more than 80 passengers at the time of the accident, the Modern Coast bus wreckage initially trapped some victims. However, the bus was not overloaded and had a total of 44 people on board.
The two ill-fated buses were travelling from Maua in Meru along the Nkubu-Thuchi road, to the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa when they plunged off a bridge into the river. The latest disaster, at the end of the rescue mission was confirmed to have claimed the lives of 16 women and 19 men.
The Tharaka Nithi County Commissioner further confirmed that the bus had 44 passengers on board and not the earlier prediction of 45.
“We only have nine survivors out of the 44 passengers that were involved in the accident,” Komora sadly disclosed.
Many more accidents have occurred at the Nithi bridge ever since. But the August ghost seems to create a pattern. On August 25, 2020 a multiple accident at the infamous black spot 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.
Accidents have occurred in other months though. In May 2021 three people escaped death narrowly after the lorry they were driving in was involved in an accident at the spot. The driver of the lorry which was coming from Meru town escaped uninjured while the two other passengers sustained serious injuries and were rushed to the hospital.
Only three days before, another lorry had lost control and fell off the bridge killing the driver on the spot and left the conductor severely injured.
Former Tharaka Nithi governor Samuel Mbae Ragwa who passed by after the lorry accident said that the bridge has taken so many lives and property adding that it is important that an alternative road is created especially for heavy loaded commercial vehicles.
Residents in Maara sub-county decry that nearly once every month an accident occurs at the bridge and cautioned drivers to drive slowly when using the overpass and completely desist from overtaking while descending the sharp slope.
Several rescue team leaders have acknowledged, that the bridge is in a very sharp corner, at a very huge gradient and quite a height above the Nithi River. Many have said that the river has huge boulders, which are halfway covered by the water and could also be responsible for killing or seriously injuring the otherwise survivors who are thrust into the river on impact.
The rescue team in the most recent accident concurred that the accident was caused by the vehicle mechanical failure. They all however pointed out that most of the accidents occurring at the bridge are as a result of careless driving though the sloppy and curving stretch was tricky to new drivers on that road.