By Drazen Jorgic (Reuters)
A fire engulfed Terminal 1 at Kenya’s main airport on Wednesday (August 7) forcing the closure of a vital travel and trade gateway to east Africa.
Flames from the inferno lit up the early morning sky, and the intense heat repeatedly drove back firefighters. A huge plume of black smoke billowed from the airport buildings, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or injuries.
Hundreds of passengers were stranded outside Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in the capital Nairobi, which was cordoned off to keep the public out after the fire started early in the morning in the arrivals and immigration area, officials said.
The cause of the worst fire in record at east Africa’s busiest airport is not yet known.
Michael Kamau, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport, told reporters at the airport: “We are still fighting to contain the fire. Investigations will start immediately after,”
“The fire started at a very central part of the airport and this made access difficult. But we have closed the airport indefinitely as we try to contain the fire.”
One passenger at the airport said he heard two small explosions from the international arrival area, then sirens.
“I was waiting for my flight around 5 a.m. (02:00 GMT) when I heard two explosions, as if from gas cylinder or electricity fault,” said the passenger, a Kenyan who requested anonymity.
“Within minutes, the entire airport was secured by police and Kenya airport authority personnel, who ordered everybody out of the airport,” he said.
The airport buildings were ravaged by the fire. Television pictures showed desks that had been reduced to chacoal inside the burned out terminal. The roof had partly caved in, and the floor was flooded with water from fire fighters.
Transport secretary Kamau said no aircraft had landed or departed since the fire started, and said he could not give any indication of when the airport would reopen. Airlines that wanted to take off without passengers have been allowed to do so, he said.
Flights have diverted to several alternative destinations such as Kenya’s port city of Mombasa, Eldoret in the northwest and Kisumu in the west, as well as to neighbouring countries including Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.
Cabinet Secretary for the Interior Joseph ole Lenku said: “People should not come to the airport while this work is ongoing. No casualties have been reported and the fire fighters are doing a good job. Safety is paramount.”
Two days ago, a fuel pump failure caused big delays at Nairobi Airport and it was also in the news last week when several duty free shops were forcefully re-possessed by the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) in the early hours of Thursday, following the expiry of a lease agreement.
Update: The airport reopened reopened to international traffic on August 8..
By Drazen Jorgic (Reuters)