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Inferno set off by gas blast in Kenya's capital injures hundreds, kills several; It was "like an earthquake"

A vehicle loaded with gas exploded and set off an inferno that burned homes and warehouses in Kenya's capital early Friday, injuring more than 270 people and killing at least three, with the toll expected to rise.

A number of residents were probably in their homes when the fire reached the houses late in the night, government spokesman Isaac Mwaura said.

Fire following an explosion at a makeshift gas cylinder refilling depot at Mradi estate in Embakasi district of Nairobi
Residents gather at the scene of an explosion at a makeshift gas cylinder refilling depot in Nairobi, Kenya, on Feb. 2024. THOMAS MUKOYA / REUTERS

An explosion of a truck with an unknown registration number and loaded with gas ignited a huge fireball, and a flying gas cylinder set off the fire that burned down the Oriental Godown, a warehouse that deals with garments and textiles, Mwaura said. Several other vehicles and businesses were damaged by the blaze that started around 11:30 p.m. Thursday in the Mradi area of the Nairobi neighborhood of Embakasi.

It took firefighters more than nine hours to bring the fire under control, Agence France-Presse reported.  

Many residents had to spend the night outside as large columns of black smoke rose from the area, AFP said.

Residents stand at the scene of a deadly massive fire in Nairobi, Kenya on Feb. 2, 2024.  SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images

At the scene after daybreak, several houses and shops were burnt-out. The vehicle believed to have exploded was on its side and only the shell remained on the road. The roof of a four-story residential building about 200 yards from the scene of the explosion was damaged by a flying gas cylinder. Electric wires lay on the ground. Nothing remained in the burnt-out warehouse except shells of several trucks.

Kenya Fire
Police walk near a gas depot after a fire caused by an explosion at an industrial building in Nairobi, Kenya, on Feb. 2, 2024. Brian Inganga / AP

James Ngoge, who lives across the street from where the fire broke out, told AFP, "We were in the house and heard a huge explosion. The whole building was shaken by a huge tremor; it felt like it was going to collapse. At first, we didn't even know what was happening. Iit was like an earthquake. I have a business on the road that was completely destroyed."

Alfred Juma, an aspiring politician, said he heard loud noise from a gas cylinder in a warehouse next to his house. "I started waking up neighbors, asking them to leave," Juma said.

He said he warned a black car not to drive through the area, but the driver insisted and his vehicle stalled because of the fumes. "He attempted to start the car three times and that's when there was an explosion and the fire spread into the (warehouse), setting off other explosions."

He said he grabbed two children and they hid in a sewage ditch until the explosions ended. His family wasn't around, but Juma lost everything else in the fire except the clothes on his back.

Firemen extinguish a blaze in Nairobi, Kenya on Feb. 2, 2024.  LUIS TATO / AFP via Getty Images

Neighbor Caroline Karanja said they had to run away after the explosion after police cordoned off the entire area.

"Police were turning away everyone and so it was difficult to access my house and I had to seek a place to sleep until this morning," Karanja said. She said the smell and smoke were still choking and she would have to stay away for a while because she had young children.

Police and the Kenya Red Cross reported three deaths. The toll may rise after daybreak, Wesley Kimeto, the Embakasi police chief said.

Firefighters were combing through the burned area in the morning.

The government and Red Cross said 271 people were taken to several hospitals with injuries.

The proximity of the industrial company to residences raised questions about enforcement of city plans. Officials at the county government have been accused of taking bribes to overlook building codes and regulations.

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