A major fire that broke out at the main international airport in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi has been brought under control.
The government has admitted that fire crews struggled to find water, with tankers having to be used to fetch supplies. It has promised to establish the cause of the fire, which started in the arrivals and immigration area.
The intense heat repeatedly drove back the poorly equipped firefighters. They battled for hours to put out the fire which partially collapsed the roof of the terminal building.
Passengers were evacuated and inbound and outbound flights to the airport were halted. This is peak season for tourists in Kenya, and imports and exports of goods were affected, so the economic repercussions could be big.
One South African passenger spoke to euronews about being stranded: “Our flight was supposed to be at seven o’clock this morning. We were heading to Cameroon but we’ve no idea what’s going to happen now. We’re still waiting for the offices to open and to see who can we connect to so we can get more info on where to go next.”
The blaze at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport – a regional hub for East Africa – raged for hours before the emergency services were on the scene, according to eyewitnesses. Two people were reported to have been treated for smoke inhalation.
Domestic and cargo flights were due to resume using the cargo terminal.
Michael Kamau, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport, said: “We are going to allow all departing cargo planes to leave, all the ones that are here at the airport, but we will not allow any incoming flights to come. We are going to open the airport for domestic passengers. There are very many passengers who are in Mombasa, Eldoret and other airports. We will start operations, flights from here to Eldoret to Kisumu and to Mombasa and other airports.”
The national flag carrier, Kenya Airways said overseas flights from London and from Bangkok would land at the airport as scheduled early on Thursday and travellers would be processed through the domestic terminal.
That small facility will be expanded with tents to create extra space for the passengers.
The fire coincided with the 15th anniversary of a twin attacks by Islamist militants on the United States embassy in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital of neighbouring Tanzania.
But security analysts said there was as yet no indication of any link to Islamist militants that Kenyan soldiers are battling in neighbouring Somalia as part of an African Union force.
“It doesn’t bear the hallmarks of an al Shabaab operation but one never knows. It might be something new,” said a regional security analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.
One Kenyan passenger at the airport said he heard two small explosions from the international arrival area.
“I was waiting for my flight around 5 a.m. (04.00 CET) when I heard two explosions, as if from a gas cylinder or electricity fault,” the man said.