Nairobi, Kenya, Dec 12 – The death toll from a fireball caused by a crash involving a tanker carrying flammable materials rose to 40 Monday, as Kenya faced calls to improve safety on its perilous roads.
The east African nation was left reeling by devastating scenes from the crash late Saturday in which the tanker ploughed into 11 vehicles, leaving a trail of incinerated wreckage and bodies along the main road leading west from Nairobi towards Uganda.
Officials initially put the death toll at 33, but after scouring the scene, rescue workers — some in hazmat suits — found six more bodies in the bush of people who tried to flee the scene, a senior police officer told AFP.
And one of the injured succumbed to their wounds in hospital.
“We have 34 bodies at Chiromo mortuary and six at Kenyatta University mortuary,” said Nathaniel Kigotho, director of the National Disaster Operations Centre.
He said all of the victims would have to undergo DNA testing to be identified.
The dead include 11 officers of the General Service Unit, a paramilitary police force.
“Scenes from hell” was the headline on Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper which ran stories of brave rescues and daring escapes from the inferno.
One motorist called Kamau said he managed to jump out of his car just in time, but witnessed grisly scenes including a man running for his life as flames consumed him.
“I am not sure if he survived,” he said.
– Road notoriously dangerous –
Kenya’s Red Cross said the driver had lost control of the tanker which then crashed into 11 other vehicles and “burst into flames”.
Police and witnesses have blamed new speed bumps which have appeared along the notoriously-dangerous highway without any warning signs — a common occurrence on Kenyan roads.
“The disaster once again demonstrates the perils on our roads which have persisted despite interventions to make travel safer,” read an editorial in the Daily Nation, which highlighted confusing traffic rules which are often not enforced.
Large trucks are supposed to be banned from travelling along certain roads at night. Traffic rules are often flouted in Kenya where corruption and the bribing of police officials is rife.
The busy Nairobi-Nakuru highway is notorious for deadly accidents.
In 2009, over 100 people were killed and 200 injured after a petrol tanker overturned and local people gathered to collect the leaking fuel then a fire broke out.
According to Kenya’s traffic department, some 3,000 people die annually on the country’s roads.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) believes the figure could be as high as 12,000.