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Fire Engulfs Kenya's Nairobi Airport Terminal

posted 7 Aug 2013, 03:22 by Mpelembe   [ updated 7 Aug 2013, 03:23 ]

East Africa's busiest airport is forced to close after fire devastates the arrivals building of Nairobi International.

NAIROBIKENYA (AUGUST 7, 2013) (REUTERS) -  A fire engulfed Kenya's main airport on Wednesday (August 7) forcing the closure of a vital travel and trade gateway to east Africa.

Flames from the inferno lit up the early morning sky, and the intense heat repeatedly drove back firefighters. A huge plume of black smoke billowed from the airport buildings, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or injuries.

Hundreds of passengers were stranded outside Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in the capitalNairobi, which was cordoned off to keep the public out after the fire started early in the morning in the arrivals and immigration area, officials said.

"When I was coming, there was a small smoke coming out of one of the buildings around here and there were so many fire engines coming in and out, when I was just about to board the plane we were told to come out and within 30 minutes the whole of arrivals was on fire," said one passenger,James Odhiambo.

The cause of the worst fire in record at east Africa's busiest airport was not yet known.

"This fire started about 5 (am) at the immigration point and we can now confirm it has been contained and its no longer spreading out of where it started. Unfortunately, we have lost the arrival area and a number of offices have been gutted down. It is important to emphasize that we have tightened security to ensure everyone is safe," said Cabinet Secretary for the Interior Joseph ole Lenku .

One passenger at the airport said he heard two small explosions from the international arrival area, then sirens.

The airport buildings were ravaged by the fire. Television pictures showed desks that had been reduced to charcoal inside the burned out terminal. The roof had partly caved in, and the floor was flooded with water from fire fighters.

Transport secretary Michael Kamau said no plane had landed or departed since the fire started, and said he could not give any indication of when the airport would reopen. Airlines that wanted to take off without passengers have been allowed to do so, he said.

Stranded passengers watched from a short distance as grey smoke continued to billow from the blackened building. Many sat on their bags or on the ground as they waited for information.

Exporters of perishable produce, mainly flowers, said the impact of the fire would cripple their business.

Airlines are expected to divert flights to Kenya's port city of Mombasa, Eldoret in the northwest and Kisumu in the west, as well as to neighbouring countries including UgandaTanzania and Rwanda.

Kenya Airways, one of the leading airlines in the region which uses the airport as its main hub, said it was diverting flights to Mombasa and that transit passengers were being taken to hotels. Other flights had been cancelled.

Shares in the airline fell 2 percent.

In RwandaRobert Nsinga, a spokesman for RwandAir said it had cancelled flights to Nairobi and was offering passengers flights to Mombasa instead.

Wenceslaus Rama Makuza, the chief executive officer of Uganda's Civil Aviation Authority, said no international flights had been diverted to its main airport yet, but one Air Uganda flight had been turned away from Nairobi due to the fire.

Two days ago, a fuel pump failure caused big delays at Nairobi airport.

It was also in the news last week when several duty free shops were forcefully re-possessed by theKenya Airports Authority (KAA) in the early hours of Thursday, following the expiry of a lease agreement.