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Three dead, 280 injured in huge Kenya blaze

By Dylan GAMBA, Ammu KANNAMPILLY
Kenya The explosion ignited a 'huge ball of fire that spread widely', according to government spokesman Isaac Maigua Mwaura.  By LUIS TATO AFP
FEB 2, 2024 LISTEN
The explosion ignited a 'huge ball of fire that spread widely', according to government spokesman Isaac Maigua Mwaura. By LUIS TATO (AFP)

A truck laden with gas canisters exploded in a densely populated area of the Kenyan capital, setting off a huge blaze that killed three people and injured 280, the government said Friday.

The blast ignited a huge ball of fire in a residential area in the southeast of Nairobi, ravaging many properties and vehicles and sending local residents running for their lives.

Firefighters managed to bring the blaze under control by around 9:00 am (0600 GMT), more than nine hours after it erupted in the Mradi area of Embakasi close to midnight on Thursday, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.

Investigations are under way to determine the cause of the blast, which media reports said could be heard several kilometres (miles) away.

Douglas Kanja, Deputy Inspector of Police, said a guard at the site where the explosion occurred had been arrested and that investigations were ongoing.

Beautician Vivian Njeri, 34, said she had just arrived home when the disaster struck, but managed to escape with injuries to her back and hands.

"We were running and screaming because there was fire all over outside," she told AFP from a tent outside a Nairobi hospital where victims were being treated.

Residents said they had long feared such a disaster, with gas trucks arriving every day in the Mradi area.

Kenyan government spokesman Isaac Maigua Mwaura said three Kenyans died and 280 others were rushed to hospital for treatment.

The explosion ignited a "huge ball of fire that spread widely", he said in a statement.

The blaze damaged houses, commercial properties and vehicles, according to the government spokesman.  By LUIS TATO AFP The blaze damaged houses, commercial properties and vehicles, according to the government spokesman. By LUIS TATO (AFP)

"Consequently, the inferno further damaged several vehicles and commercial properties, including many small and medium sized businesses," he said.

"Sadly, residential houses in the neighbourhood also caught fire, with a good number of residents still inside as it was late at night," he added.

Images broadcast by local media showed a huge fireball close to several homes in Embakasi, an area that is home to about one million people, according to a 2019 census.

Felix Kirwa, a motorcycle taxi driver, told AFP he had just returned home when he heard two blasts that caused his house to shake and shattered a window.

Many of the area's residents spent the night outside.  By Luis TATO AFP Many of the area's residents spent the night outside. By Luis TATO (AFP)

The father of three grabbed his youngest child -- a four-year-old boy -- and ran out of the house, losing track of his other children in the confusion.

"I didn't know where the two other children ran to until this morning when I located them, and they are safe," he said, nursing a bandaged broken leg.

According to an AFP journalist, several houses and vehicles were burned, with images of the scene showing the wreckage of charred vehicles.

'Like an earthquake'

"We were in the house and heard a huge explosion," James Ngoge, who lives across the street from where the fire broke out, told AFP.

The fire broke out just before midnight on Thursday.  By Luis TATO AFP The fire broke out just before midnight on Thursday. By Luis TATO (AFP)

"The whole building was shaken by a huge tremor, it felt like it was going to collapse. At first, we didn't even know what was happening, it was like an earthquake.

"I have a business on the road that was completely destroyed."

Stella Mbithi, a roadside vegetable vendor, was serving customers when she saw the sky turn orange with flames.

"We all took off. It was chaotic because people were screaming all over and vehicles were honking horns. I fell down several times," she told AFP. "I am lucky to be alive."

Residents look on after the huge explosion and fire in the Embakasi area of Nairobi.  By SIMON MAINA AFP Residents look on after the huge explosion and fire in the Embakasi area of Nairobi. By SIMON MAINA (AFP)

The explosion forced many of the area's residents to spend the night outside, with large columns of black smoke seen billowing from the area.

Some people could be seen collecting their belongings and surveying the damage to their homes.

"The scene has now been secured and a command centre is now in place to help coordinate rescue operations and other intervention efforts," Mwaura said.

Kenya's Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) said Friday it had denied permission three times last year for the construction of a liquefied petroleum gas storage and filling plant at the site of the explosion.

"The main reason for the rejection was failure of the designs to meet the safety distances stipulated," it said, noting "the high population density around the proposed site".

In 2011, more than 100 people were killed in a slum in the Embakasi area when fuel spilled from a pipeline and burst into flames.

Many of the victims were burnt beyond recognition, some scorched to the bone and others to ashes.

In 2018, a blaze at Nairobi's Gikomba market killed 15 people including four children and injured at least 70.

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