NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 7 – President Uhuru Kenyatta has appealed for calm as the government works out to resolve the crisis caused by fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).
Through his Spokesman Manoah Esipisu, the President stated that relevant government departments were doing everything possible to get operations back to normal at East Africa’s largest airport.
“The cause of the fire is still being investigated and at this point, there is no reason to speculate. The President also wishes to state that there was no loss of life. There has been a serious disruption of the aviation operations at this airport as you will understand. Contingency measures have been put in place to stabilise the situation and to return the airport to normal operations,” he said.
Transport Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau told journalists that an assessment exercise was still underway to establish the possibility of allowing landing and departing international flights to use the airport.
“We are also reviewing the ground floor of Unit 2 separating the power from Unit 1 so that after the clean up, we will put a tent on the air side of Unit 2 to also enhance the capacity of International flights,” he said.
The government only allowed domestic passenger and all cargo flights to resume operations later on Wednesday evening after a large section of the country’s main airport was gutted.
Kamau further dispelled reports that the fire was as a result of a fuel hitch experienced at the airport two days ago.
“The airport emergency operations team is working round the clock to prepare Units 2 & 3 for arrival and departure of international flights as soon as possible. Investigations by security agencies have commenced and are ongoing. There is no reason to speculate on the causes of the fire,” he stated.
Interior and National Coordination Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku told journalists that the fire started at the immigration area, but no casualty was reported because of the quick evacuation and emergency response.
“All security alerts are on high gear to make sure that we not only establishing the cause of the fire but we minimise the damage and make sure that it does not hurt the economy any further,” he said.
Some of the witnesses interviewed by Capital FM News said the fire could have done more damage were it not for the quick action by emergency teams.
“We were going on with our work when we heard sirens. When I looked up, the whole of the International Arrivals was on fire. I was in the parking and when I came closer, the fire had already began at the immigrations section,” a taxi operator at the airport stated.
The blaze comes two days after aircraft were delayed for several hours after the failure of a fuel hydrant needed for refueling the planes.
It also comes 15 years to the day of attacks on the US embassy in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in neighboring Tanzania which killed more than 224 people.
The airport which hosts both international and domestic flights serves as a regional hub for east Africa, with many long-distance international flights landing there to connect to countries across the region.
Regional aviation sources say some seven million passengers use JKIA annually. The airport offers direct connections to Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and other African cities.
Following the fire incident, all local and international flights that were scheduled to depart from the JKIA were cancelled and passengers taken to hotels in the city.
Passengers whose travel schedules were interrupted by the flight cancellations recounted their inconveniences, with others saying they may never be able to recover losses suffered.
“I am an advocate and I have been delayed in my travels and suffered a great loss,” said one passenger.
Flights coming into JKIA were diverted to Mombasa while transiting passengers in Nairobi and Mombasa were taken to hotels.
Kenya Airways confirmed that one of their staff member and a passenger were earlier in the day admitted to hospital after inhaling smoke at the airport, but they are likely to be discharged after emergency treatment.