Kenya mourns after pipeline explosion

2011-09-14 07:35
Nairobi - The death toll from a gasoline pipeline explosion in the Kenyan capital has risen to 87, a Red Cross official said on Tuesday, as the Kenyan government declared two days of mourning for the victims of the disaster.

Earlier in the day, residents working with the Red Cross waded through a river filled with sewage using sticks to poke around for the bodies of their family members.

Red Cross coordinator Pamela Indiaka said five more people died on Tuesday in the hospital while undergoing treatment for severe burns, bringing the total number of deaths to 87. The earlier toll on Tuesday was reached after one body was recovered late on Monday, and six more bodies were recovered Tuesday from the sewage-filled river.

Indiaka said the Red Cross has called off their search and recovery mission at the scene of Monday's explosion.

"We don't see any hope of finding any more bodies and we've asked the government to call the navy to see whether they can send in specialized divers to look for bodies that may be stuck in the river," she said.

The Kenya Red Cross has set up a counselling centre and tracking desk at a hall where the homeless are staying to help people affected by the fire, said Venant Ndigila, a security manager at the Red Cross. Families can get help for trauma and assistance in tracing their missing relatives, he said.

Among those made homeless is 12-year-old Olipha Birongo Oginga, who ran out of the inferno carrying her 2 1/2-year-old niece on her back while leading her 7-year-old brother by the hand. Oginga said they had gone out to see the rush of people running out of their home to collect the gasoline. Some people seemed intoxicated by the gasoline fumes, she said. Then the explosion happened.

Ruined homes

Mortuary officials are collecting all the bodies before relatives view them to try to spare families the trauma of repeatedly trying to identify badly burned corpses. Only 10 of the 22 they currently have are identifiable, said senior mortuary attendant Sammy Nyongesa.

Among the anxious relatives waiting to view the bodies was Cleophas Busolo, who said he had searched several hospitals for his 17-year-old son.

"I am panicking because I am not sure if he is dead or alive, I am not very sure," said Busolo, a night watchman. "If I had found his body, I would be sure of what to do."

The head of the state-owned Kenya Pipeline Company said Monday's explosion was caused by an over-pressurized pipeline. The gasoline inside leaked out into a sewer and the river running through the slum and then ignited. No one from the company was available for comment on Tuesday.

Some residents are already seeking to rebuild their ruined homes despite the danger of another explosion. On Tuesday, schoolgirls in green uniforms were sifting through the wreckage for nails.

"My father asked me to collect nails, so that he can start to rebuild our house," said 10-year-old Evelyne Njeri as she placed the nails in a white bucket. "This is where our house was, this is where it burned down. And when the fire started my mother was caught in the fire and as we speak now she is in the hospital for treatment."

Some said they had nowhere else to go and if the pipeline had been properly maintained, the tragedy would not have happened.

"I blame the pipeline corporation because if they had properly inspected the pipeline none of this would have happened," said Jane Mbinya, who lost her home and her husband in the fire.

Read more on:    kenya  |  east africa

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