Bodies recovered from Nakumatt ruins

Rescue workers at the Nakumatt Downtown store went back to work on Saturday morning after retrieving 25 bodies from the skeleton building on Friday.

Several Kenya Red Cross Society workers donned protective gear and searched through the debris of the supermarket, which was brought down by a massive fire that burned through Wednesday and Thursday.

By today (Saturday), the ruins were still smouldering.

The missing persons tent set up by the Kenya Red Cross was empty as most people who had reported their relatives and loved ones missing, had converged at the City Mortuary to try and identify the charred remains that were taken there late Friday.

More on this story from Capital FM >>

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Deaths feared in Nakumatt inferno

Dozens are feared dead after a fierce fire destroyed a popular supermarket in Nairobi’s central business district. However, there has been no official confirmation on dead or missing persons.

The Nakumatt Downtown fire captured as it began on the afternoon of Wednesday 28th January, 2008. Picture by Leah Shagam N'Diaye
The Nakumatt Downtown flames captured as they began on the afternoon of Wednesday 28th January, 2008.

Crowds at the scene and relatives of the missing are convinced that people were trapped in the fire. The downtown supermarket had two levels of shopping floor usually packed with people.

The fire began and spread rapidly. A survivor told Kenyan radio that she barely squeezed out of the narrow supermarket doors before hearing a loud explosion inside, followed by thick smoke.

Thick smoke coming out of the Nakumatt Downtown building in Nairobi. Picture by The Nakumatt Downtown fire captured as it began on the afternoon of Wednesday 28th January, 2008. Picture by Leah Shagam N'Diaye
Thick smoke coming out of the Nakumatt Downtown building in Nairobi.

So intense was the fire that smoke is still billowing out of the ruins almost 30 hours after the fire began on Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile, Kenyan authorities have been criticized for being ill-prepared to deal with disaster.

Fire engines from the Nairobi City Council, Kenya Airforce, Kenya Airports Authority and private firms all ran out of water. Fire hydrants in the Kenyan capital long fell into disuse and fire trucks had to get water from Nyayo Stadium and Ngara. Both locations are 3 km away from the disaster along streets clogged with traffic.

The fire is believed to have been caused by an electrical fault. Eyewitnesses say a Kenya Power and Lighting transformer malfunctioned just behind Nakumatt Downtown moments before an explosion. Power fluctuations are common in Kenya and have caused great damage but never on the scale witnessed at this moment.

Considering that the building is still on fire, it is highly unlikely that bodies could have survived the heat and will pose serious challenges during identification.

Breaking News: Nakumatt Downtown in flames

A fierce fire is currently gutting down the Nakumatt Downtown supermarket, one of Nairobi’s largest.

According to Capital FM, at least seven workers of the store in the centre of Nairobi have suffered serious burns. 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 blaze has destroyed the megastore, as Nairobi City Council firefighters ran out of water. Reinforcements from private fire fighting firms, and the Kenya Airforce are at the scene but also running out of water.

The cause of the fire has not been established. The store, at the junction of Kenyatta Avenue and Kimathi Street, is one of Kenya’s busiest.

Onlookers are wondering how a fire could have grown to such devastation without detection.

Water restored to Umoja amidst demolitions row

Water supply has been restored to Umoja Innercore, a month after water and sewer lines got entangled in a city planning mishap.

Part of the fast growing Umoja Innercore suburb of Nairobi.

Part of the fast growing Umoja Innercore suburb of Nairobi.

Residents of Innercore are now getting clean water after more than a month of dry taps. The Nairobi City Water & Sewerage Company (NCWSC) shut off the water supply after it discovered that the main water pipe had got entangled with the estate’s sewer line. During this period, Umoja residents have had to buy water from trucks at exorbitant rates.

Following the resumption in water supply, the City Council of Nairobi has began demolishing residential flats built on top of utility services (water, sewer, power and phone lines). Landlords affected by the demolitions deny responsibility for the mess and have presented documents showing their buildings were approved by city planning officers years ago.

According to a press release by the NCWSC, the source of the pollution was a section of a water mains that had been poorly repaired and thus exposed to contamination. The company’s technical team found cases of vandalism of manhole covers and several illegal connections on the water and sewer network, some of which were cut off pending investigations.

Dumping of solid waste such as plastic bags, wood, old clothing and food remains contributed to a breakdown in the sewer system, forcing the NCWSC to unblock over 3km of sewer lines in the area.

The water company says the clean water network was flushed, sterilized and commissioned, but customers are advised to, “clean their storage tanks before starting to use them because the tanks must have been contaminated.”

During the water supply crisis, Umoja has witnessed an exodus of tenants, forcing landlords to lower house rents. With the City Council vowing to remove apartments built on top of utility lines, Umoja’s landlords are not yet sleeping easy.

ODM expected Embakasi loss

The ODM party of Prime Minister Raila Odinga expected to lose the Embakasi seat in this week’s by elections, sources have revealed to the Nairobi Chronicle.

That explains why the top brass has been quiet even as the party’s candidate, Esther Passaris, vowed to petition the poll results. The Embakasi seat was won by PNU’s Ferdinand Waititu. All in all, in the five by elections held across Kenya, ODM took 3 seats while PNU won 2. ODM still retains a parliamentary majority with 103 seats but PNU and its affiliate parties have a total of 104.

ODM sources reveal that Ms Passaris chances were slim mostly because of the fact that she has no political roots in the Embakasi. During December’s General Elections, Ms Passaris quit her job as CEO of Adopt-a-Light to campaign for the ODM. In January, ODM leaders apparently promised Passaris that they would nominate her for Nairobi Mayor. When they did, the Minister for Local Government at the time, Uhuru Kenyatta, rejected the nomination.

According to Uhuru, Adopt-a-Light has pending legal cases with the Nairobi City Council and therefore the nomination of Passaris would represent a conflict of interest. ODM leaders failed to contest Uhuru’s decision much to the disappointment of Passaris.

When the Embakasi seat fell vacant in March after the murder of newly elected Member of Parliament, Mugabe Were, it was felt that Passaris should be allowed to contest as a reward for supporting ODM. However, the transition from CEO to the world of politics is turning out to be a difficult preposition for the outspoken lady who boasts Greek and Kenyan parentage. Indeed, most of the votes Passaris got in Embakasi were votes for the ODM party and not a genuine reflection voter confidence in her.

In contrast, Mr Ferdinand Waititu has campaigned for the Embakasi seat for several years. He was Deputy Mayor of Nairobi after the 2002 General Elections and already has an extensive political network from his base in Njiru, east of Nairobi. Mr Waititu is well known among Nairobi’s city councillors. Last year, the seat would have been his and PNU’s for the taking if major blunders hadn’t been made.

For its own reasons, the PNU party settled on former Mayor John Ndirangu for the Embakasi seat. Mr Waititu sought nomination on the Democratic Party in protest and was promptly slapped with criminal charges which he is still fighting today. Come election day, the candidacies of both Ndirangu and Waititu split their supporters, allowing ODM’s Were to sail through. The total number of votes for both Ndirangu and Waititu far exceeded those for Were. This time, the PNU learnt from its mistake and nominated Waititu for the race.

The late Mugabe Were won the Embakasi seat in part due to the ODM wave but also due to his political clout in the area. Mr Were had been a councillor in the Nairobi City Council for years before he decided to run for the Embakasi seat. He was well known among the youths for his involvement in community activities.

Unless ODM finds somebody with a grassroots network in Embakasi, it will be difficult for them to regain the seat in the near future.

Eastlands matatus back in town

A controversial decision to send all Eastlands matatus to the new Muthurwa terminus appears to be hitting a wall, as matatu operators get court orders allowing them back into the central business district.

A matatu picking passengers on Tom Mboya street, Nairobi

An Embakasi matatu picking up passengers from Nairobi’s Tom Mboya Street.

Matatus from Embakasi, Maringo, Buruburu and Outering were the first to obtain court orders temporarily allowing them to operate into the city. Lately, Kayole buses have also won similar orders and are now back to their former terminus at OTC. Indeed, many people from Eastlands no longer have to walk to Muthurwa to catch public transport. If anything, the court orders seem to have given matatu operators the leeway to collect passengers from virtually any street corner.

Double M, Kenya Bus and Citti Hoppa buses continue operating within the city centre because other routes that they ply, such as Kawangware and Ngummo, are legally allowed through the city. However, buses from the three companies operating to Eastlands routes often sneak into town through the industrial area or Majengo estates. Once in town, police don’t bother with them.

The Muthurwa terminus hasn’t been left deserted though. Matatus to Industrial Area, Umoja, LungaLunga, Komarock and Njiru/Ruai still operate from Muthurwa. From recent developments, its just a matter of time before they too go to court and are allowed into town.

Meanwhile, the Nairobi City Council and the Transport Licensing Board (TLB) have said that they will no longer recognize Eastlands routes ending within the city centre. Since the TLB is the legal body authorized to register matatus, the move is seen as an attempt to beat legal challenges launched by matatus against moving to Muthurwa.

Early this year, the Nairobi City Council and the Ministry of Local Government ordered that all Eastlands matatus move their operations to the Muthurwa terminus. Local Government minister at the time, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta (now Deputy Prime Minister) said the decision was meant to ease traffic congestion in the city. However, commuters and matatu operators criticized the move as inconsiderate and ill-planned. Not only were commuters forced to walk longer distances, but the Muthurwa terminus is still under construction with piles of soil everywhere.

Matatu operators claimed that the move was a ploy by Uhuru to convince hawkers to move from the city streets and into the Muthurwa hawkers market. What better way to do it, asked the matatu operators, than to create a captive market. If that really was the government’s intention, then it worked like magic. No sooner than matatus were forced into Muthurwa than all hawkers left city streets for their new market.

Nairobi is increasingly suffering from traffic congestion due to slow expansion of city streets. Many roads in Nairobi were planned and built by British colonialists back in the 1950s and 60s. By opening the Muthurwa terminus, the City Council hopes to move matatus from other parts of Nairobi to parking bays previously occupied by Eastlands matatus. For instance, South B route 11 will begin operating from the Central Bus Station. However, with continued resistance from Eastlands matatus, the City Council may have to wait a little longer to implement its plans to end the chaos currently on the streets of Nairobi.

Trees down the drain

A tree growing out of a drainage system along a major highway in Nairobi, Kenya.

A tree sprouts out of a long-neglected drainage channel along a major highway in Nairobi. Blockage of most drainage channels in the Kenyan capital causes heavy flooding during the rainy seasons. It has also contributed to an upsurge of malaria in the city as mosquitos breed in pools of stagnant water. An increase of rats in Nairobi has been described as the consequence of an overwhelmed city sanitation system.