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Kenyans shed tears as explosion rocks slum

Xinhua | Updated: 2011-09-13 14:06

NAIROBI - Some shed tears freely, others just watched, unable to cry anymore as efforts to save lives frantically went on in Nairobi's Sinai slum, engulfed by a huge pipeline explosion on Monday morning.

At one point of the scene, a man threw his hands up in the air and cried loudly, mentioning a name of someone repeatedly, certainly one of the victims of the tragedy.

Kenyans shed tears as explosion rocks slum
A woman sprawled herself on the ground as she wailed endlessly and muttered words that no one could understand.

Two emergency aid workers came to her rescue, ferrying her to a safe place where they began to attend to her.

Amidst all this, rescue efforts continued. Fire fighters battled relentlessly a ball of fire that was consuming a group of shacks made of timber and iron sheets. Residents joined them in their efforts, carrying water with buckets and splashing on the fire.  

Similarly, men formed a human chain in efforts to save household items from adjacent shacks, where fire had not spread.

In one filthy trench that form part of Nairobi River, charred bodies of victims lay in a heap, burnt beyond recognition, capturing the magnitude of the tragedy. The victims reportedly were trying to escape from the fire.

Ambulances rushed from the scene ferrying victims to hospital. Children, some as young as four-year-olds, returned home from school only to find places they once called home no longer existed.

These were the events at Sinai, a slum district on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya where it is estimated over 100 people have perished and scores others injured in what may turn out to be the country's worst fire tragedy.

The fire, caused by an oil spill at a Kenya Pipeline Company depot in the area, which is adjacent to the informal settlement, has caused massive destruction.

Anguish and grief has gripped the area and Kenya in general. The oil pipeline that passes through the slum, one of the numerous in Nairobi, is said to have burst earlier in the morning.

It is reported that some of the victims may have been siphoning the fuel. The cause of the fire is unknown but it is suspected that one of the victims may have ignited it.

By 5:00 pm (1400 GMT) on Monday, reports had indicated that 117 people had died while scores of others admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital.

But the Kenyan police put the toll at 75, while 118 others were seriously injured.

"We want to believe that the number of the dead may rise. We are waiting for body bags to put the victims into," said Thomas Atuti, the area's police boss. Most people admitted to the hospital suffered third degree burns.

The hospital administrators appealed for blood donation, water and beddings to aid the fire victims because of the overwhelming situation.

Ironically, this is not the first time for such a tragedy to hit the East African nation. In 2009, 122 people were killed after a fire erupted while people were siphoning fuel from an overturned tanker in Rift Valley.

Sinai slum is built on top of a pipeline that supplies fuel to the oil depot. "In the morning, there was a leak on the pipeline. People were coming out of their houses to collect the fuel that was spilling," said a resident. "Then there was a big explosion and smoke and fire broke out."

Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi visited the scene. Odinga shed tears after seeing charred remains of victims at the scene.

"Our people should not die like this regardless of where they are living. It's unfair," he said. He said the government would consider compensating the victims.

He promised that the government would help the families of the fire victims. He called for investigations into the cause of the fire.

Noting that the accident was the worst tragedy to occur in the history of the country in the energy sector, Odinga said the government had instituted thorough investigations in the accident to determine the cause and avoid similar occurrences in future.

He asked the nation to remain calm even as he pledged that the government will compensate the families of those who lost their lives.

The premier, who was briefed about the tragedy at the Kenya Pipeline offices in industrial area, said the possible cause of the fire was a failure of a casket that caused the oil to leak into the drainage igniting the fire.

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka appealed to Kenyans to be calm saying investigations into the fire has been launched. He said it was not time to blame anyone for the tragedy and urged Kenyans to support the affected families.

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta urged leaders to feel a collective sense of responsibility adding that he was determined to do whatever he can to meet the needs of those affected.

"We have heard of lives that were lost, we have seen people walk away injured-their lives completely changed. As Kenyans we feel a collective sense of loss and grief. As leaders we ought to feel a collective sense of responsibility," Kenyatta noted.

Those who visited the various hospitals where survivors are admitted called on Kenyans to step in and help.

However, as in other tragedies in Kenya, rescue efforts were hampered by lack of access roads to the sprawling slum.

Nairobi is home to over 40 slums spread across the city. Residents live in wood, iron sheets and mud houses.

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