Rescue efforts have been delayed because roads have been cut and bridges closed after streams turned into raging torrents in Western Kenya.

FILE PHOTO: People walk through an area swept away by waters from the Patel dam near Solai, in Kenya's Rift Valley on May 10, 2018.
FILE PHOTO: People walk through an area swept away by waters from the Patel dam near Solai, in Kenya's Rift Valley on May 10, 2018. (AP)

At least 36 people were killed in Kenya when their homes were swept away in a landslide during ferocious rainstorms, local government officials said on Saturday.

"We can confirm that the number of those dead has sadly reached 36. Some people who we thought were lost have been found dead," Samuel Poghisio, a senator from the affected area, told Reuters by phone.

Their homes were hit overnight Friday amid torrential rains in Kenya's West Pokot region, 350 kilometres (220 miles) northwest of the capital Nairobi.

"Twelve bodies have been recovered, and a search for more is going on," West Pokot County Commissioner Apollo Okello told journalists on Saturday.

"The challenge we are facing is the heavy rains, but we are trying our best."

Okello said that two children were pulled out alive from the smashed wreckage of their mud-covered homes.

"They have been rushed to hospital," he said.

Rescue efforts have been delayed because roads have been cut and bridges closed after streams turned into raging torrents.

"Massive landslides reported in various areas of West Pokot County following heavy downpour," Kenya Red Cross said in a message, adding that its emergency response teams had deployed to help.

But police officers on the ground said they feared the toll could rise. Rescue efforts to dig bodies out of the dirt continued.

It is not only Kenya that is affected. The landslides come amid weeks of destructive rains and flooding across East Africa.

Violent downpours have displaced tens of thousands in Somalia, submerged whole towns in South Sudan and killed dozens in flash floods and landslides in Ethiopia and Tanzania too.

Close to a million people in South Sudan alone are affected with growing fears of disease and starvation.

Floods hit East Africa regularly, but scientists say that it has been exacerbated by a powerful climate phenomenon in the Indian Ocean stronger than any seen in years.

The extreme weather is blamed on the Indian Ocean Dipole, a climate system defined by the difference in sea surface temperature between western and eastern areas of the ocean.

The ocean off East Africa is currently far warmer than usual, resulting in higher evaporation resulting in rain over the continent.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies