A truck loaded with gas exploded and set off a massive fireball that burned homes and warehouses in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, killing at least three people and injuring 280 people.
Kenya’s government vowed that those responsible would be held accountable for the explosion that took place just before midnight on Thursday in the Embakasi neighbourhood, unleashing a trail of destruction and sending people running for their lives.
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“One lorry [truck] of an unknown registration number that was loaded with gas exploded, igniting a huge ball of fire that spread widely,” government spokesperson Isaac Mwaura said on the social media platform X on Friday morning.
He added that vehicles, businesses and residential homes were engulfed by the flames and the wounded were rushed to various hospitals in the capital. “A good number of residents [were] still inside as it was late at night,” he said.
The fire was eventually contained by Friday morning, but firefighters, rescue teams, and police were looking for people trapped in the area.
“As we call for caution and adherence to the rule of law, those culpable in this unacceptable occurrence will be held accountable,” Kenya’s Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua posted on X.
Gachagua said the “tragic and unfortunate incident … has caused deep agony and great pain to many families”, after he visited the site of the blast in southeastern Nairobi on Friday.
The tragic and unfortunate incident of the Liquified Petroleum Gas explosion last night at Mradi Embakasi, Nairobi, has caused deep agony and great pain to many families.
This afternoon, I visited the site of the terrible incident in which we lost lives and property.
I have… pic.twitter.com/SH1NoZFmSE
— H.E. Rigathi Gachagua, EGH (@rigathi) February 2, 2024
Houses and shops burned
At the scene after daybreak on Friday, several houses and shops were burned out. The shell of the vehicle believed to have started the explosion was lying on its side. The roof of a four-storey residential building about 200 meters from the scene of the explosion was broken by a flying gas cylinder. Electric wires lay on the ground. Nothing except the shells of several trucks remained in a burned-out warehouse called Oriental Godown that deals with garments and textiles.
Alfred Juma, an aspiring politician, said he heard loud noise from a gas cylinder in a warehouse next to his house. “I started waking up neighbours asking them to leave,” Juma said.
He said he warned a black car not to drive through the area, but the driver insisted and his vehicle stalled because of the fumes. “He attempted to start the car three times and that’s when there was an explosion and the fire spread into the [warehouse] setting off other explosions.”
Juma said he grabbed two children and they hid in a sewage ditch until the explosions ended. His family had not been present, but he lost everything he owned in the fire.
Earlier, the Kenyan Red Cross said it had taken 271 people to health facilities around the capital and 27 were treated on site.
Mwaura said the area had “been secured, and a command centre is now in place to help coordinate rescue operations and other intervention efforts”.
Investigations are under way to determine the cause of the explosion, which was felt several kilometres away.
SECOND UPDATE ON THE EMBAKASI GAS EXPLOSION FIRE INCIDENT
Further to our earlier communication, the government of Kenya wishes to confirm that yesterday Thursday 1st February 2024, at around 11:30 pm, there was a huge explosion at Mradi area, in Embakasi, Nairobi County.
— Spokesperson GoK (@SpokespersonGoK) February 2, 2024
Caroline Karanja said fellow residents in the neighbourhood had to run away after the explosion and as police cordoned off the entire area.
“Police were turning away everyone and so it was difficult to access my house and I had to seek a place to sleep until this morning,” Karanja told The Associated Press news agency. She said the smell and smoke were still choking and that she would have to stay away for a while because she had young children.
Kenya’s Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) said it had denied permission three times last year for the construction of a liquefied petroleum gas storage and filling plant at the site of the explosion.
“The main reason for the rejection was failure of the designs to meet the safety distances stipulated,” it said in a statement on Friday, noting “the high population density around the proposed site”.
But residents alleged that the gas businesses in the neighbourhood had operated with impunity and little regard for citizens’ safety.
“Why do we have gas plants in the middle of estates? This is a residential area and that is a gas plant right there. And it is not one, there are several,” Magdalene Kerubo, 34, told AFP news agency.
“Our government is so irresponsible,” she said, fuming.