Huge blaze shuts Kenyan airport hub
A small fire wrecked Kenya's main international airport after the poorly-equipped local fire brigade were slow to react and it turned into a raging inferno.
Some fire engines lacked water and others had no drivers. At one stage uniformed officers lined up with buckets in hand, apparently to fight the blaze which destroyed Jomo Kenyatta International Airport's arrivals hall, shutting down East Africa's largest airport and forcing the cancellation of dozens of flights. It was later able to re-open for domestic and cargo services.
The massive fire sent billows of black smoke high into Nairobi's sky. The blaze burned for more than four hours before officials declared it contained, and flames continued to burn two more hours after that.
The fire broke out on the 15th anniversary of the bombings of the US Embassy buildings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, in neighbouring Tanzania, but there were no signs of terrorism in the fire. Kenya's anti-terror police boss, Boniface Mwaniki, said he was waiting for more information before making a judgement. No serious injuries were reported. Two people were treated for smoke inhalation from the fire.
Nairobi is the capital of East Africa's largest economy, but it lies in a region where public sector services like police and fire units are hobbled by small budgets, corrupt money managers and outdated or no equipment.
Nairobi's most respected paper, The Daily Nation, reported last month that Nairobi County does not have a single working fire engine. One engine, the paper said, was auctioned off in 2009 because the county had not paid an £80 repair bill. Many of the responding units to the fire were from private security firms.
One government official at the site of the fire said an initial assessment showed that a complacent response helped a small fire grow into an uncontrollable inferno. Some airport fire engines were not filled with water and others did not have personnel to drive them, he said.
President Uhuru Kenyatta visited the scene and expressed concern over disrupted travel plans. A presidential statement said the cause of the fire is being investigated and that "there is no reason to speculate at this point."
"We reassure international and local travellers that arrangements are being put in place to restore normal operations. The airlines are working to assist stranded passengers and advise them on the measures being put in place to resume services," said Stephen Gichuki, the director of the Kenyan Airports Authority.
By early afternoon, passengers began to grumble that minimal assistance was being offered and Jane Waikenda, the director of the Department of Immigration Services, sent out rapid-fire messages on Twitter in a bid to soothe frayed nerves.