Obama calls Kenyan leader after airport blaze

US president offers Uhuru Kenyatta support as international flights resume at airport devastated by inferno.

Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013 17:14
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Investigators have sifted through the debris in search of clues for the cause of Wednesday's fire [AFP]

President Barack Obama has phoned Uhuru Kenyatta, his Kenyan counterpart, to offer Washington's support following a devastating fire at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), east Africa's largest.

The US embassy in Kenya said Obama made the call on Wednesday as his country marked the 15th anniversary of the twin bombing of US embassies in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

There were no casualties in Wednesday's fire but the inferno devoured the main arrivals terminal and destroyed a large amount of property. Kenya Airways reported "one member of staff and a passenger had slight smoke inhalation and were safe in hospital for further investigation".

Obama - who visited east Africa at the beginning of July but skipped Kenya, the birthplace of his father - expressed 
condolences to families of those killed and wounded in the attacks, the US embassy in Nairobi said, without giving details of the president's phone call to Kenyatta, who is facing crimes-against-humanity trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Kenyan officials said some international flights had resumed, one flight arriving at JKIA from London at 6:30am while two more flights arrived from Thailand and neighbouring Uganda.

Official account

Al Jazeera's Catherine Soi, reporting from Nairobi, said she had spoken to airport officials who confirmed international operations had resumed.

Flights resume at Kenya airport after blaze

"The two flights have landed. And officials say that other international flights will be departing soon. The first one will be Kenya Airways to Johannesburg [South Africa]," she said.

A statement released by Titus Naikuni, Kenya Airways CEO, indicated that nine flights would take off on Thursday, according to Kenya's Standard newspaper.

Customs and baggage are being processed through what is normally the domestic terminal because international arrivals were gutted in the four-hour blaze.

Cargo and domestic flights out of Nairobi resumed early on Wednesday evening, officials said.

By 9am local time (0600 GMT), firefighters had succeeded in stemming the raging flames, despite a lack of both water and equipment.

"Everything is being done to resume normal operations," Manoah Esipisu, a presidential spokesman, said outside the charred arrivals hall of JKIA, where hours earlier flames had lit up the pre-dawn sky.

Mombasa connections

International passengers were given priority to fly to Kenya's second city Mombasa to connect to onward flights while Nairobi's domestic terminal was being prepared to handle flights from abroad.

Up to 16,000 passengers usually transit through JKIA everyday, Esipisu said.

JKIA is a regional hub for east Africa, with many long-distance international flights landing there to connect to countries across the region.

Meanwhile, Kenyan investigators have sifted through the debris in search of vital clues for the cause of the inferno, the Standard reported.

Several police units were deployed to examine the cause of the fire that left thousands of passengers stranded and incoming flights diverted to airports in Mombasa and Eldoret, the newspaper said.

"Investigations by security agencies have commenced and are ongoing. There is no reason to speculate over the causes of the fire," Michael Kamau, the transport minister, said.


Al Jazeera and agencies
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