No signs of terror in Kenyan airport fire

2013-08-07 08:36
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Kenyan airport fire

A massive fire broke out at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Wednesday. See all the pictures.

Nairobi - 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 shot 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.

"It was huge, the smoke billowing, and it didn't seem to be stopping," said Barry Fisher, who had hoped to fly to Ethiopia on Wednesday morning.

Associated Press reporters at the scene said the fire had gutted the international arrivals hall, where passengers pass through immigration and retrieve their luggage. The Kenya Airports Authority said the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has been closed until further notice so that emergency teams could battle the fire.

While there were no immediate signs that terrorism played any role in the fire, Kenya's anti-terror police boss, Boniface Mwaniki, told The Associated Press that he wanted to wait for the fire to be put out so that he could inspect the scene before making any judgment.

Michael Kamau, the cabinet secretary for transport and infrastructure, said the fire began at 05:00 in the immigration section of the arrivals hall. He said no injuries had been reported. Inbound flights were diverted to the coastal city of Mombasa, he said.

As in many countries in East Africa, public sector services like police and fire units are hobbled by small budgets and outdated or no equipment. A British passenger, Martyn Collbeck, said he was surprised that the airport wasn't shut down sooner so that emergency vehicles could respond.

"When I arrived there were one or two fire engines parked outside the international arrivals. It spread very fast," said Collbeck, who had been scheduled to fly back to London on an early morning KLM flight. "There were a couple of explosions which I think were a couple of gas canisters."

But, he added: "I would have expected more fire engines to respond faster."

Emergency landings

AFP said firefighters were tackling the blaze but were "running dangerously low on water", the interior ministry said in an appeal to traffic to give way to trucks ferrying water to the airport.

"Apart from emergency landings, all flights into and out of JKIA have been cancelled ... (the) airport has been shut down," added Iringo.

The fire broke out shortly before dawn.

There were no initial reports of casualties, but Iringo said the fire was "massive", adding that the arrivals and immigration sections were "totally damaged".

Flights were being diverted to other airports, including the port city of Mombasa, the interior ministry added.

Images on Kenyan media showed flames rising high in the sky and billowing clouds of black smoke out of the main arrivals and departures terminal, with dozens of police and fire trucks at the scene.

Busiest airport

The airport serves as a regional hub for east Africa, with many long-distance international flights landing there to connect to countries across the region.

Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre, in an update given at 05:00GMT, said that while the blaze had been brought under control in the international departures areas, fire was still burning at the arrivals terminal.

All roads around the airport had been closed except to emergency traffic, it added.

"This is a major crisis," said senior transport ministry official Michael Kamau.

The blaze comes two days after aircraft were delayed for several hours after the failure of a fuel hydrant needed for refuelling the planes.

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

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- AP
Read more on:    kenya  |  aviation  |  east africa  |  air travel  |  kenyan airport fire
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