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Kenyan Airport to Resume Full Operations Friday

Kenya Airways and government officials address a joint news conference after a huge fire left all flights suspended at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, Aug. 7, 2013.
The Kenyan government says the international airport in Nairobi will reopen to all airlines Friday, following a major fire that shut down operations. The cause of the fire is still to be determined.

Kenya’s cabinet secretary for transport, Michael Kamau, told reporters Thursday that all flights will resume as normal in and out of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport after midnight. “We are back on our feet. Anybody who knows Kenyans, we are very, very resilient, that is known the world over; we are not afraid of competition, it is healthy, we are up, we are running.”

Most flights were grounded Wednesday after a fire that began in the immigration section of the arrivals terminal gutted the building, causing a massive disruption at East Africa’s busiest transport hub.

Maintaining security

Since then, airport officials have allowed some international flights to come in through the domestic terminal. Kamau said extra security agents have been deployed to ensure that normal security procedures are maintained.

The transport secretary said investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire which broke out before dawn.

“We’ve cordoned off the area now. We are receiving assistance in the investigations from other agencies, international agencies, because we intend to carry out a full investigation on what happened yesterday. So that is ongoing,” said Kamau.

While the government has asked the public not to speculate on the cause of the fire, Kenya’s newspapers have their own theories. The Daily Nation on Thursday ran a one-word front-page headline that read: “Sabotage?”

The media also has been critical of the city’s fire services, which have struggled for years to get more funding for equipment and manpower.

Lingering questions

The secretary-general of Kenya’s National Fire Brigades Association, Francis Omolo Liech, questioned why the fire crew stationed at the airport, with five fire engines, was not able to bring it under control sooner.“If the response could have been proper, and with enough manpower, with five fire engines, I think the inferno could have been contained even before the Nairobi fire brigade arrived."

U.S. President Barack Obama called President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday to offer support to Kenya following the fire.

The Kenyan government says East African leaders also called to offer the use of their countries' airports.

Some Nairobi-bound flights were diverted Wednesday to Uganda and Rwanda, and to other cities in Kenya.

Jomo Kenyatta International is a major transit place for flights through East Africa, and services some five million passengers each year.

The government says it will build a temporary structure to accommodate passengers as the burned out terminals are renovated. They also plan to fast-track the completion of a new terminal that is currently under construction and slated to open in March 2014.