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Nakumatt: 1 dead, 19 reported missing

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 29 – One person was confirmed dead Thursday morning after he succumbed to injuries at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) where he was admitted following the Nakumatt Downtown inferno.

Seven other people, including supermarket staff who had been admitted to the Coptic and Avenue Hospitals were treated and discharged, according to the Kenya Red Cross Manager in charge of Disaster Management and Preparedness, Davies Okoko.

Mr Okoko said two of the victims were still admitted with serious injuries sustained in the Wednesday afternoon fire.

“One person has died in hospital where he was admitted since yesterday (Wednesday). The others have been treated and discharged but two are still admitted,” he said.

Mr Okoko explained that the deceased man had sustained serious fractures and other internal injuries after he jumped off the first floor of Woolworths building, which houses the supermarket.

“He had severe injuries, we have just received information that he has succumbed to the injuries,” he said.

The Red Cross official, who briefed journalists at the scene of the fire Thursday morning, would not reveal the identity of the deceased man, only saying he was a young man.

“For obvious reasons, we cannot reveal his identity. Understand,” he pleaded.

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Mr Okoko said they had mobilised teams to be on stand by, so they could start an evacuation exercise once the building is declared safe.

Meanwhile, the Kenya Red Cross says it has received missing persons reports from 19 families who say they cannot trace their relatives after fire broke out.

The families had flocked to a tent set up outside the smouldering supermarket, saying that most of their kin had spoken to them on telephone moments after the disaster struck.

"Minutes later, their phones went dead," many of those at the tent said.

A number of them had to be restrained after they demanded access to the building, which was still burning, close to 24 hours after the inferno started.

The Kenya Red Cross immediately started counselling the families that had showed at the tent in anticipation of any eventuality.

The fire continued burning on Thursday morning making it impossible for rescue teams to gain access into the building, as fears began to mount that the entire structure could collapse.

"We are unable to do any search and rescue because the shop is still very unstable. The roof has collapsed and also the first floor," said Giles Littlewood, the General Manager of a rescue company that was helping out City Council fire-fighters.

He added: "We are not able to put people inside there to actually go looking, which is causing us a problem. Even with the fire fighting… we can’t get right to the source of the heat," he said.

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Knight Support Limited Fire and Rescue Company was at the scene all through Wednesday night together with the police and ambulance service.

"The fire is smouldering. If you leave it for long enough, it will heat up again and we had a huge problem yesterday with gas canisters blowing," Mr Littlewood revealed. "We are just going to heap the water on it because unfortunately if you have a large mass of material like you have now, it takes a lot of time for the inside of it to lose its heat. It’s a waiting game really."

Police remained on guard, trying to get curious onlookers from getting too close.

The fire placed the country’s disaster preparedness in sharp focus once again, after emergency crews arrived late and without water or proper equipment.

Group 4 security General Manager Clive Lee said the capital’s fire hydrants were short of water and they were forced to collect fresh supply from Nyayo Stadium, three kilometres away.

The Nairobi City Council fire brigade was later forced to rely on reinforcement from the Army, the Kenya Airports Authority and the Police Force.

"It takes more time. The coordination is very poor and in the first couple of hours, although the general public were trying to be helpful, they were just getting in the way and stopping the firemen from doing their job," Mr Lee said.

Speaking after visiting the scene on Thursday morning, Nairobi Mayor Godfrey Majiwa ordered developers in the city to ensure their buildings had proper fire exits.

He said fire fighters had a difficult time accessing the interior of the building housing Nakumatt downtown due to sealed fire escapes.

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The Mayor stated that the emergency exits make work easier for rescuers in cases of fire disasters.

"The only message I have for developers is that they must make sure that the fire exits are open.  This is because we had a problem with fire exits here.  The firemen could not gain access so they were fighting it (fire) from outside," the Mayor said.

He also refuted claims of incompetence by the council’s fire fighters in responding to the Nakumatt blaze.

"They responded in five minutes… that is record time! That is world standard. They have done a good job but we need to improve both in the training of the firemen and equipment," he stated.


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