As millions of Kenyans celebrated Christmas, the extended family of trapped miner Tom Okwach continued to camp at the Abimbo mines in Siaya County, still hoping against hope to reunite with him.
Mr Okwach, 35, was one of 10 miners buried under the rubble after a gold mine collapsed in South Sakwa on December 2. Eight of them were rescued alive and one was found dead.
Meanwhile, Mr Okwach’s body remains buried under the debris, 25 days after the accident.
On Monday, the family appealed to the national government and other relevant authorities to help them retrieve their relative.
“All we want is to be able to find our son. If he is dead, our wish is to have him buried on the family land and not remain buried at the mining site," said his father, Mr Martin Sikuku.
This year, unlike in past Christmas seasons, the family could neither dine nor make merry like the rest of Kenyans.
They continued to camp under a tree beside the collapsed mines as several Christians joined them and offered prayers on December 25.
“We spent Christmas praying for our son. We are not sure if he is still alive. However, we are hopeful that God will soon answer our prayers,” Mr Sikuku said.
Donations from well-wishers, he said, were diminishing and they sometimes slept on empty stomachs.
'They have turned their backs on us'
For the past three weeks, Mr Sikuku’s family has been camping at the mines though Siaya officials and other authorities have withdrawn their services.
"The Luo customs and traditions do not allow us to go back home or celebrate while our relative is still buried underground. We must stay here until he is finally rescued alive or dead," Mr Sikuku said.
The family said Siaya officials had turned their back on them.
County excavators left the site two weeks ago after the Mining Society of Kenya took over the search and rescue operations.
“The county rescue team took away the oxygen-generating machines and all the pumps that were used to supply air to the mines," Mr Sikuku said.
The other rescue teams, including the Kenya Red Cross, police and ambulances also left one after another, leaving the family to rely on the mercy of locals.
After the excavators left, the county donated Sh100,000, which was used to hire another excavator for Sh60,000 while Sh30,000 went to the rescue team.
Mr Sikuku said that a new excavator brought to the site also left a week ago, leaving young volunteers to carry on with the rescue mission.
Before the excavator left, he said, Sh60,000 was raised to pay for its owner for the services.
“Our hopes have died. For the past two weeks, there has not been any serious rescue activities going on," said Mr Sikuku, who now hopes that the young volunteers do not leave too.
'Still actively involved'
But Mr George Aola, an officer with the Siaya County Disaster Management Unit, dismissed the claims, saying that they are still actively involved in the rescue operation.
Before Christmas, he said, the county government donated Sh200,000 to ensure the operation continued.
He explained that the county withdrew the excavators because of the danger posed by the weak ground and replaced them with the young volunteers, who are now doing the work manually.
“The rescue operations have gone beyond our expectations. However, we will continue working closely with the family until the remaining miner is removed from the shaft," Mr Aola said.