Families search for loved ones

January 31, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 31 – Families whose loved ones went missing following the Nakumatt Downtown store fire have resolved not to clear any body from the City Mortuary until all the victims’ bodies have been recovered and identified.

Kenya Counselling Association Vice Chairperson Professor Catherine Gachutha said on Saturday that the decision was arrived at to avoid confusion, where a family leaves with someone else’s remains.

“We are talking about relationships. When relationships such as these are cut in a manner that these ones have been… very suddenly; coming and identifying someone positively, even if they are not able to identify their loved ones, helps them to heal.”

She said this was so because people who are going through pain and trauma need a lot of love, care and support.

Speaking to Capital News at the City Mortuary, where she was coordinating a counselling centre set up by the Kenya Red Cross, Ms Gachutha said that they had already counselled more than 250 people who came as families or couples.

“It has been a very daunting process because it is emotional and it is very painful. We are helping the family members go through the process of ‘catharsis’ or talking through what they are thinking or what they are feeling. So that they can be able to process much more of what is happening,” she said.

Most of the bereaved family members were first received at a tent on the morgue grounds, where they were taken through a counselling session by a team of psychiatrists, before heading to the mortuary to identify their kin.

The sessions were about 15-20 minutes long. Once done, the families who were mostly in groups of more than three were led to towards the mortuary, where they would join a queue of relatives waiting to identify their kin from the charred remains that had been brought in from the Nakumatt site.

“At first they look composed and then they would call the rest of the family and some just broke down, prompting their counsellors to comfort them. They (counsellors) would talk to them, asking things like what their relation was with the person they identified, what they felt at the moment, and if they will need some assistance going home or even psychological help from the team,” one of the attendants told Capital News.

While at the Mortuary, our crew met with the family of community radio presenter and Television actress Angela ‘Angel’ Wainaina, who also perished in the Wednesday inferno, going through the final steps of identifying her body.

According to her Aunt Esther, they were able to identify Angel by the colour of her clothes and the fact that she was not very badly burnt.

“We were able to identify her by the black top and a red belt that her colleagues said she was wearing on that day.”

The manager of the late Angel’s radio show told Capital News that she suffered burns on the back of her head, and some of her hair was burnt. “It looks like she curled up or fell forward when the smoke became too much.”

Angel, otherwise known as ‘Sergeant Maria’, was at the height of a blossoming career as one of two female policewomen in the TV series Cobra Squad.

She was also a women’s rights activist and presenter at Ghetto Radio Station. The station’s Programmes Controller ‘Mwafrika’, who accompanied the family, said that they began looking for Angel after both her work colleagues and family could not trace her by 5 pm on that fateful day.

“When we heard of the fire, at first we thought it was something small and then people started calling each other to confirm that they were not trapped. But when we called, her phone was off. We sent someone to her house but she wasn’t there. That’s when we suspected something was wrong…on Thursday morning we all went to the site.”


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