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Marooned at Mt. Meru: Kenya’s floods trap CIMMYT team

Last Wednesday, Kenya-based maize breeder Alpha Diallo and driver Haron Mwangi had a harrowing experience on the slopes of Mt. Meru in Tanzania, where they were marooned for nearly 6 hours.

“We were on our way from Nairobi to the Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) in Arusha to attend a ceremony for the release of 3 CIMMYT varieties, and harvest collaborative drought trials, but on reaching Donyo Sabuk, 40 km from Arusha, we saw these dark clouds on the hills in the distance,” says Diallo.

They climbed a further 3 km without any signs of rain on the road, but suddenly, black clouds had formed, and it started to pour. “Before we knew it there was a big mass of water coming from the hills,” says Mwangi.

The deluge was relentless, and Diallo and Mwangi had to make a quick decision. “We took off our shoes and jumped out of the car and onto a small island nearby, which we thought was made of rock”. But they looked on in horror as the pounding rain started to eat away at a similar, adjacent ‘island.’ “That’s when we realized our island was nothing but a lump of volcanic soil, and if the rain didn’t stop it would be washed away too, sweeping us into the now-raging current,” says Diallo.

It rained for nearly 4 hours. When the sun finally broke through, the flood level was just 5 feet from the top of their island. Help came from the local Masai people. For the next two hours 10 men with spades excavated the CIMMYT vehicle, which was buried to doorheight in soft mud.

A trip that should have taken 3 hours took 8, and they reached Arusha well after the variety release ceremony at SARI had ended—soaked, exhausted, and traumatized, but safe.