I watched helplessly as my mother burned to death

Published on 03/02/2009

By Alex Kiprotich

When nine-year-old Samuel Mutunga collected empty jerricans with his mother to rush to the accident venue, he did not know he would witness the horror of his life.

Mrs Janet Kiraka, 65, with her grandchildren, who were orphaned by the tragedy, at her home in Kibunja, Molo after she was discharged from Molo District Hospital where she was undergoing treatment to come and take care of them.

This was after word went round that a tanker had overturned at Sachang’wan, two kilometres from their home at Kibunja.

Mutunga says his mother, Jacqueline Kavai, called him to go and get petrol, which they could later sell and get money for his school fees and buy food for the family.

“Mum told me to pick anything empty, from jerricans, buckets and basins,” a tearful Mutunga recalled yesterday.

He said he followed his mother who was ahead of him because he had to ensure that his sick father had medicine by his bedside just in case they took long to return. The couple’s five other children were also left behind.

Scrambling for petrol

Mutunga said his mother arrived at the scene with his three uncles and immediately started scrambling for the spilt petrol. When he got there, Mutunga said he decided to stand across the road to witness the drama as men, women, and children fought and splashed over the petrol.

“I did not go near because I saw people shove and push and I knew I could not manage,” he said.

However, what followed five minutes later would forever remain etched in his mind.

Samuel Mutunga, 9, lost his mother in the tragedy. [PHOTOS: TABITHA OTWORI/STANDARD]

“I kept monitoring where my mum was because I knew she would call me once she had filled the jerricans, suddenly, I heard an explosion and everything was on fire,” he said, shuddering.

“I saw my mother burning, she was at the edge of the trench where petrol was flowing. She was screaming as she tried to cross the road towards where I was. Then she fell down.”

“I was confused, I could not help because she was on fire and rolling on the ground. When the fire went out on her body, she just lay there, badly burnt everywhere. I heard her say: “Mwambie baba yenu nimeenda (tell your father I have expired)”.

The class three pupil at Noble Primary School at Kibunja started to run towards his home to tell his father.

“The place was full of fire. People were burning and screaming. Many headed towards the river, but they kept falling,” Mutunga told The Standard.

He says when his father, who was suffering from a bout of malaria saw him, he sensed danger.

“My father demanded to know what was happening and I told him mother had burned to death. He fainted,” he said.

“Every time I sleep I see my mother on fire and hear her shouting at me, I am gone! I am gone!” he says.

His father Mr Robert Chesima Kiraka says Mutunga is traumatised.

“He is young and the pain of seeing a parent die in a fire is just too much,” he said.

Mr Kiraka says he was lucky because he was sick at the time since he would have definitely been at the trench of death with the rest of the village. Mutunga, who is the first-born, says he regrets going to the scene, but insists he loved his mother very much and always assisted her in chores.

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