60 dead after drinking moonshine

Last updated 13:40 07/05/2014

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Kenya's police chief says at least 60 people have died in four counties after consuming homemade brew believed to be laced with industrial alcohol.

Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo said Tuesday the deaths were reported in the counties of Embu, Kiambu, Muranga and Kitui. Dozens more people were hospitalised and several went blind.

Kimaiyo says it is likely those affected accessed the same batch of homemade brew containing methanol - a toxic alcohol added to the concoction to give it more kick. The deaths were first reported on Sunday night (local time), Kimaiyo said.  

Television footage showed victims writhing in pain in local hospitals in the eastern and central counties of Embu, Kitui and Kiambu.

In Kiambu County, where nine people died, Police Commander James Mugera said authorities were still looking for more victims. The spirits probably all originated from one batch, John Mututho, chairman of the state-run National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse, said on Citizen Television.

Drinking dens selling illicit homemade brews from jerry cans are common in the back streets of many towns and villages in Kenya. They prompted Mututho, a former lawmaker, to sponsor a landmark alcohol-control law in parliament in 2010, but the law has proved ineffective.

''One of the ladies who is now blind said they started drinking at 5 a.m.,'' Mututho told Citizen. ''There is no outlet in Kenya which is authorised to open at 5 a.m. In fact, the earliest it should be (is) 5 p.m.''

Consumption of homemade liquor in Kenya is high where more than half the population lives below the poverty line and many cannot afford to buy standardized alcohol.

Occasionally deaths occur from consuming the illicit brew when unscrupulous traders lace the drink with methanol.

- Reuters with AP

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