Nairobi Dispatch | Chaos As Massive Fire Guts Nairobi International Airport

Posted August 7, 2013 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Kenya ~ 3,782 views


NAIROBI — A devastating fire shut down Nairobi’s international airport for much of Wednesday in a “major crisis” that forced the cancellation or diversion of scores of flights at east Africa’s biggest transport hub. The first international flights by Kenya’s national carrier will land early Thursday in Nairobi, officials said, with immigration formalities and baggage processed through what is normally the domestic terminal as international arrivals were gutted in the four-hour blaze.Cargo and domestic flights out of Nairobi resumed early evening Wednesday. It was not clear whether other airlines would also land as early as Thursday.

The inferno, which started before dawn, sent dramatic plumes of black smoke billowing out of the main arrivals terminal. But by 9:00 am (0600 GMT) firefighters had succeeded in stemming the raging flames, despite being hampered by a lack of water and equipment. “Everything is being done to resume normal operations,” said presidential spokesman Manoah Esipisu, speaking to reporters outside the gutted arrivals hall of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), where flames had earlier lit up the pre-dawn sky.

International passengers were given priority to fly to Kenya’s second city Mombasa to connect to onward flights from there, while Nairobi’s domestic terminal was being prepared to handle international flights starting Thursday. Some 16,000 passengers usually transit through JKIA every day, Esipisu said. The airport serves as a regional hub for east Africa, with many long-distance international flights landing there to connect to countries across the region. Chunks of the roof of the international arrivals terminal had caved in.

Tens of thousands of passengers will be affected by the closure of the airport, while regional airports have limited capacity and will likely struggle to handle all the travellers unable to land in Nairobi. Around 250 flights take off and land there every day, regional aviation sources said, adding some six million passengers used the airport last year.
The fire was reported to have begun at the immigration section at arrivals, but the cause is not yet known, with police chief David Kimaiyo saying that investigations had begun. No casualties have been reported, but two people — an airport worker and a passenger — were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation, Kenya Airways’ chief Titus Naikuni said.

The interior ministry was forced to issue public appeals for Nairobi’s notoriously congested traffic to give way to trucks ferrying water to the airport after firefighters tackling the blaze ran “dangerously low on water”. Soldiers and police even came with buckets to help put out the inferno, said Sylvia Amondi, who was at the airport to pick up a relative who had been due to arrive there. “The airport fire brigade acted in good time but the personnel wasn’t enough, the army and some police came with empty buckets to manually put out the fire,” Amondi said.

“The international arrivals station has been completely destroyed, the roof has caved in and the floor is covered in debris and water.” The blaze comes two days after aircraft were delayed for several hours after the failure of a fuel hydrant needed for refuelling the planes. It also comes 15 years to the day after attacks on the US embassy in Nairobi and in Dar es Salaam in neighbouring Tanzania killed 224 people. The United States has ordered two dozen of its embassies closed in the Middle East and some African countries because of fears of an Al-Qaeda attack, but not Kenya. There was no suggestion the Nairobi fire was linked to any attack.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose father Jomo Kenyatta — Kenya’s first president — the airport is named after, visited the charred terminal along with his top security chiefs to assess the damage caused by the “huge inferno”, the interior ministry added. Kenyatta later called the fire a “tragic event”, and promised all efforts would be made to resume normal operations “as soon as possible”. August is one of Kenya’s busiest months for tourism, a key industry for the country, as foreign travellers fly in to see its wildlife and the white sand beaches on its Indian Ocean coast. The airport offers direct connections to Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and other African cities.

Source — AFP

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Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


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