Staff missing in Nakumatt fire

January 28, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 28 – Four staff at Nakumatt Downtown are unaccounted for after a headcount was conducted following the inferno that razed the property and destroyed goods worth millions of shillings on Wednesday afternoon.

Authorities say 99 people responded to a head count at Jevanjee gardens out of the 103 who were officially on duty.

However, police said it was still early to tell whether the four had been taken to hospital or just didnt turn up for the roll call.

The count does not, however, cater for any shoppers who may have been caught up in the blaze.

Distressed workers were seen jumping out of the building when the fire at started at 3 pm, causing panic and confusion in the capital.

Dozens of other staff members were evacuated from the burning supermarket and taken to the Jeevanjee Gardens where a headcount was in progress by 6 pm.

There was no immediate report of deaths but workers interviewed by Capital News said some of their colleagues may have been trapped upstairs.

A number of people were seen being wheeled into waiting ambulances, and could have been injured trying to jump from the building to escape the fierce blaze.

Some of the distressed staff members at the supermarket told Capital News that they just heard a loud explosion upstairs which was followed by a massive fire.

“I heard a loud bang, then fire. There was smoke all over and I just dashed out because I was arranging goods downstairs,” a staff member said.

Another staff who wore a blue coat said he was upstairs when the fire started.

“I was in the store, it was like a generator that exploded (sic), lights had gone off, when power resumed, it came with a loud explosion, I just ran out but I believe there are people upstairs,” he said.

Another worker at the supermarket who donned a white coat was seen running out and shouting.

“Please help save the people inside,” he said, then five men struggled to get hold of him before he was forced into an ambulance when it became apparent he had been injured.

Police Commissioner Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali who led the evacuation process said: “Everything is in control, please give us time to assess the situation. We do not know the number of casualties.”

Top government officials led by Ministers Professor George Saitoti (Internal Security), Mutula Kilonzo (Nairobi Metropolitan), Musalia Mudavadi (Local Government) and Special Programs Permanent Secretary Mohammed Ali were also at the scene.

Professor Saitoti described the situation as serious; “It is a situation we can not definitely describe. But as you can see, things are in control because fire fighters have managed to control the fire from spreading to the adjacent buildings.”

Fire brigade from the city council, Kenya Army, Kenya Police, Kenya Airports Authority and security firm G4S were still putting out the fire by 6 pm though it was apparent no property was salvaged.

“It is a big loss to the supermarket chain, it is a major disaster but as you can see the rescue efforts have been successful,” Mr Kilonzo said.

The inferno forced the evacuation of workers from the Alibhai Shariff Building, the Nation Centre and other surrounding buildings as it threatened to get out of control.

The situation was made worse by explosions that gushed flames into the sky, possibly from gas cylinders, or paints and other highly inflammable goods on sale in the store.

The fire brought business in the Central Business district to a near halt as shops and restaurants quickly closed down for fear of looters who usually take advantage of such situations.

Police had a hard time controlling the crowd of hundreds of people who milled around, threatening the rescue efforts.

A police chopper hovered in the area, though it did not help in any rescue efforts.

Nakumatt Holding’s Operations Director  Thiagarajan Ramamurthy said they were still carrying out an audit to determine the value of goods destroyed.

”We are assessing the value of goods destroyed in the fire and working with the relevant authorities to determine the cause of the fire,” he said.


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