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Limited Flights Resume After Kenya Airport Fire

  • Gabe Joselow

Limited operations resumed at Kenya’s biggest airport Wednesday, after a major fire caused severe damage to one of East Africa’s busiest transit hubs.

The fire broke out before dawn in the immigration section of the arrivals terminal at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya

Firefighters from Nairobi’s City Fire Service, as well as the military and private companies, battled the fire for hours before bringing it under control. There was no reported loss of life, although two people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

Images of the damage show the arrival hall completely gutted and blackened.

Flights coming into Nairobi were diverted to other airports in the region, including Mombasa on the Kenyan coast and Entebbe, Uganda.

Kenya's Secretary of the Interior Joseph Ole Lenku told reporters at the airport that minimal operations will resume, starting with outgoing cargo flights.

"We are going to allow those that are exiting the country, but we will not allow those that are coming in until we assess the capacity of the terminal, which will be handling both cargo and domestic flights," he said.

Kenya Airways plans to resume limited domestic operations in the evening.

A statement from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s office said Unit 3 of the airport, a section usually used for domestic flights, has been cleared to accommodate international arrivals and departures.

The president, who visited the airport earlier in the day as firefighters shot water into the smoldering buildings, said the cause of the blaze is being investigated and urged the public not to speculate.

While the airport has its own fire brigade, firefighters in Nairobi say they are underequipped. The city’s fire service has only one working fire engine and about 100 firefighters for a city of about four million.

Francis Omolo Liech, Secretary-General of the Kenya National Fire Brigade Association, hopes this incident will convince the government to commit more resources to disaster prevention.

"You know I have been telling the government to improve the fire services in Kenya," Liech said, "but they seem to be reluctant."

Jomo Kenyatta International is among the busiest airports in East Africa, serving more than five million passengers each year.

Flights were also canceled Monday due to a problem with a fuel line used to supply planes.