An accident within an hour after the start of the gruelling, 3,000-mile Safari auto rally claimed at least four lives, police said yesterday.

Witnesses said the French-built Peugeot 504 of two Kenyan drivers, Rob Collinge and Anton Levitan, was involved in the crash at a sharp bend at the town of Limuru, on Nairobi's outskirts. The crash occurred 20 Minutes after the car, which started eighth left the ramp at the start of the five day rally, billed by its organizers as the toughest in the world.

Police said four occupants of a car involved in the three car pileup, a Nairobi family of Indians of Asian origin, were killed.

The African driver of the third car, a Mercedes, sustained a broken leg. Collinge and Levitan, their car extensively damaged, pulled out of the rally. Neither was hurt.

Other drivers faced major weather problems. Thunderstorms lashed the course, turning sections into swamps.

On the first leg through the Great Rift Valley, the favorites remained bunched. They included first off Timo Makiene, in a Peugeot 504 and three time winner Joginder Singh of Kenya in a Mercedes 280E.

Others in the leading pack were Simo Lampinen of Finland in a Peugeot, Jean-Pierre Nicholas of France in another Peugeot, Bjorn Waldegaard of Sweden in a Porsche 911, Harry Kallstorm of sweded in a Datsun and Rauno Aalton of Finland in a Datsun.