Thursday, 8 August 2013 00:00
Reuters: A fire engulfed Kenya’s main airport on Wednesday 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 was not yet known.
“We are still fighting to contain the fire. Investigations will start immediately after,” Michael Kamau, cabinet secretary for transport, told reporters at the airport.
“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.”
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.
Stranded passengers watched from a short distance as grey smoke continued to billow from the blackened building. Many sat on their bags or on the ground as they waited for information.
Exporters of perishable produce, mainly flowers, said the impact of the fire would cripple their business.
“This is disastrous,” Jane Ngige, chief executive officer of exporters association Kenya Flower Council, told Reuters.
Airlines are expected to divert flights to 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.