Africa

Big fire, slow response: Kenya airport hall gutted

People watch a raging fire and black smoke billowing from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, early Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2013. Firefighters are battling a large blaze raging at Kenya's main international airport. The Kenya Airports Authority said Wednesday that the airport has been closed until further notice so that emergency teams can battle the fire. Photo: AP
People watch dense black smoke billowing from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, early Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2013. Firefighters are battling a large blaze raging at Kenya's main international airport. The Kenya Airports Authority said Wednesday that the airport has been closed until further notice so that emergency teams can battle the fire. Photo: AP
Fire engulf the International arrivals unit of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya, Aug. 7, 2013. A massive fire engulfed the arrivals hall at Kenya's main international airport early Wednesday, forcing East Africa's largest airport to close and the rerouting of all inbound flights. Dark black smoke that billowed skyward was visible across much of Nairobi as emergency teams battled the blaze. Stranded passengers stood on sidewalks outside the airport with their luggage in hand.Photo: AP
Fire engulf the International arrivals unit of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya, Aug. 7, 2013. A massive fire engulfed the arrivals hall at Kenya's main international airport early Wednesday, forcing East Africa's largest airport to close and the rerouting of all inbound flights. Dark black smoke that billowed skyward was visible across much of Nairobi as emergency teams battled the blaze. Stranded passengers stood on sidewalks outside the airport with their luggage in hand. Photo: AP
Fire engulf the International arrivals unit of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya, Aug. 7, 2013. A massive fire engulfed the arrivals hall at Kenya's main international airport early Wednesday, forcing East Africa's largest airport to close and the rerouting of all inbound flights. Dark black smoke that billowed skyward was visible across much of Nairobi as emergency teams battled the blaze. Stranded passengers stood on sidewalks outside the airport with their luggage in hand. Photo: AP
Fire fighters struggle to put out a fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya's capital Nairobi August 7, 2013. A fire engulfed Kenya's main airport on Wednesday, choking a vital travel and trade gateway to east Africa, witnesses and officials said. The cause of the fire was not yet known. Photo: Reuters
Fire fighters struggle to put out a fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya's capital Nairobi August 7, 2013. A fire engulfed Kenya's main airport on Wednesday, choking a vital travel and trade gateway to east Africa, witnesses and officials said. The cause of the fire was not yet known. Photo: Reuters
Fire raged for four hours before being contained
Published: August 7, 4:45 PM
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NAIROBI (Kenya) — A massive fire destroyed the arrivals hall at Kenya’s main international airport early today (Aug 7), forcing the closure of East Africa’s largest airport and the rerouting of all inbound flights.

No injuries were reported, said Mr Michael Kamau, the cabinet secretary for transport and infrastructure.

The fire broke out on the 15th anniversary of the United States Embassy bombings in Nairobi and neighboring Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, but there were no immediate signs of terrorism. Kenya’s anti-terror police boss, Mr Boniface Mwaniki, told The Associated Press that he was waiting for the fire to be put out so that he could inspect the scene before making a judgment.

Dark black smoke that shot skyward was visible across much of Nairobi as emergency teams battled the blaze. Passengers reported a slow response by the under-resourced fire brigade, and the blaze raged for four hours before being contained.

“It was huge, the smoke billowing, and it didn’t seem to be stopping,” said Mr Barry Fisher, who had hoped to fly to Ethiopia today.

The fire gutted the international arrivals hall, where passengers pass through immigration and retrieve their luggage. The Kenya Airports Authority closed Jomo Kenyatta International Airport until further notice.

“We reassure international and local travelers that arrangements are being put in place to restore normal operations. The airlines are working to assist stranded passengers and advise them on the measures being put in place to resume services at JKIA,” said Mr Stephen Gichuki, the director of the Kenyan Airports Authority.

The Nairobi airport is the busiest in East Africa, and its closure is likely to affect flights throughout the region.

Mr Kamau said the fire began at 5am (Kenya time) in the immigration section of the arrivals hall. Inbound flights were diverted to the coastal city of Mombasa.

As in many countries in East Africa, public sector services like police and fire units in Kenya are hobbled by small budgets and outdated or no equipment. Many of the responding units to today’s fire were from private security firms.

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