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8 die in Kariobangi factory blaze

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 25 – Eight factory workers were burnt to death in a tragic fire incident that occurred at Picasso Chemicals, a paint factory in Nairobi\’s Kariobangi estate on Tuesday.

Three others, including the factory owner and his wife sustained serious injuries and are admitted to the Kenyatta National Hospital, police and witnesses said.

The fire broke out on Tuesday afternoon and went on up to late in the night when it was put out.

"The first body was pulled out at 7pm and because we were told that there were 11 people inside when it started, we had to continue searching for the bodies and we managed to get four more at night," the Head of Police Operations in Nairobi Province Wilfred Mbithi said.

On Wednesday morning, charred remains of three other workers of the factory were pulled out by Kenya Red Cross personnel and police, raising the death toll to eight.

The fire is said to have started when one of the drums with a highly flammable chemical exploded engulfing the tiny factory, police said. Investigators were trying to establish what ignited the fire.

"We heard a loud explosion followed by a dark cloud of smoke and fire from the factory and there were people screaming all over. We had to run for our safety but there are those who rushed to try to rescue people there. I am told they did not manage to move closer because of the raging fire and the dark cloud of smoke. I am sure those killed must have died trying to escape," James Okelo, who works at a nearby factory said.

"It is a major tragedy, we have lost our friends and relatives. They were out here moments before they went in to work. Now they are all dead…life is a mystery, no one knows when he or she will die," Daniel Wanyama who works at a neighbouring paint factory said, recalling how joyful his friends were during lunch time on Tuesday.

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"We were here talking politics, the economy and other stuff, we were to catch up on our talk later that (Tuesday) afternoon, but that did not happen for they are all gone and gone forever," he added, his eyes soaked in tears.

Michael Ouma, a guard at the KK Security firm who lost a brother during the inferno told Capital News he was first telephoned and informed that there was fire at one the factories at Light Industries, only to learn that his brother was among people burnt.

"A friend who knows that my brother works at Light Industries called me at night and only told me that there was fire in the area, I then tried to contact my brother but his phone was not going through, I kept trying and I was not successful until this [Wednesday] morning when I decided to come here and I have been told my brother is dead," Ouma said.

With tears rolling down his cheeks, Mr Ouma told of how a friend of his deceased brother broke the sad news to him.

"When he saw me, he just started crying and he was saying pole pole [sorry sorry], your brother is no more," Ouma said.

His brother\’s body was the first one to be pulled out of the burning factory, that is located on the ground floor of a seven-storey residential block at the heart of Kariobangi Light Industries, an area popular with small factories that mainly manufactures paints, iron works and assorted food items like bread.

Next to the factory that was burnt is a church and an engineering firm, all located on the ground floor of the building.

When Capital News beat arrived at the scene on Wednesday morning, police and Kenya Red Cross personnel were retrieving the last three bodies which were trapped inside the rubble.

"We have managed to account for all the people who were inside the factory at the time of the fire," a senior police officer at the site said as he conversed with friends and relatives of the deceased.

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The dead were identified as Geoffrey Odinga, Fredrick Odima, Jack Ayayo, Peter Ochieng, Kennedy Okumu, Fred Oteba, Vincent Omondi and Peter Otieno.

Police and some of the friends and relatives of the deceased said the men aged between 21 and 50 are all close relatives who hail from Siaya district in Nyanza district.

Capital News was told by friends and relatives of the deceased persons that they all earned between Sh10,000 and Sh15,000 a month.

"They are all people we know. They are our relatives, it is a very sad state of affairs here there is nothing I have to say for now," George Oginga, a relative to some of the deceased men said.

When Capital News visited the site on Wednesday morning, investigators and fire personnel were still trying to establish the cause of the inferno that took fire fighters the whole night to put out.

Some of the residents interviewed said they did not know the danger that faced them for living on the upper floors of a building that has factories until Tuesday afternoon.

"This incident has taught me a lesson, it is time I moved from this place because the explosions I heard during the fire were too scary, in fact I thought the fire could spread to our houses," Michael Njuguna, a resident said.

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