NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 30 – Rescue workers have pulled out 21 charred remains of people believed to be among dozens who perished in the Nakumatt downtown store in Nairobi, which caught fire on Wednesday.
“Of these, 19 have been taken to the morgue but there are two others which are yet to be removed from the rubble,” Police Spokesman Erick Kiraithe said early Friday evening.
“Many of the remains are in a very bad state. They were burnt beyond recognition,” he said.
Mr Kiraithe stated that investigators would largely rely on the forensic process to identify many of the bodies.
“That is why we are urging relatives to go to the City Mortuary to assist in the identification process that will be done through DNA,” he said.
Red Cross officials and other rescuers were still searching for more bodies late Friday following reports that up to 47 people were missing.
“Our volunteers are at the site, they are still searching for more bodies,” Kenya Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet said.
“Among the bodies that had been recovered is that of a woman, who perished while holding a young baby,” a Red Cross official involved in the operation told Capital News.
The Police Spokesman informed reporters that they were investigating reports people may have been unable to escape because doors were locked.
“Certainly, anyone found responsible will face the law. That is one of the things investigators are looking into because there are claims that doors were locked including the emergency ones,” he said.
The first of the bodies were discovered by Red Cross officials as they combed through the debris on Friday morning.
“We still believe there are more bodies inside. It is a technical matter. We have the necessary experts there including from the Disaster Operation Centre to ensure that all that can be done is done to preserve the bodies so that later they can be identified,” said Mr Kiraithe.
On Friday afternoon, President Mwai Kibaki toured the scene in the company of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura and Police Commissioner Major General Hussein Ali.
The President pledged that the government would do all it could to help those affected.
“The government will help the bereaved families and all those affected. It is not all about the building now, it is about human life and we are sorry,” said the Head of State, leaving after making the brief speech.
The search for missing persons was in its second day and the remains of 12 people were discovered Friday morning at the corner of a staircase where the blaze is believed to have started.
The Head of the recovery mission and Assistant Director of National Disaster Management at the Red Cross Colonel Joseph Kingori, said the number of missing Nakumatt employees remains at five.
“The figure is 47; 26 male, 21 female,” he said.
Nakumatt Operations Director Thiagararajan Ramamurthy said a proper information and counselling centre was being set up to cater for all those affected by the blaze.
“We have insurance and the government will look at what is supposed to be done, the police department knows about it and what should be done,” said the Director.
Investigators are yet to establish the cause of the fire.