Kenya declares week of mourning for victims of fires

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Nairobi - As Kenya begins to come to terms with perhaps the worst fire tragedies in a week at Nakumatt Supermarket and the Molo tanker explosion, the government has declared a week of national mourning beginning Monday.

In perhaps the worst fire disasters to hit the country this year, 127 lives have been lost in the past one week.

After the fierce fire that gutted the Nakumatt supermarket in the capital city last Wednesday, the country woke up to yet another disaster, this time a fuel tanker that overturned at Sachangwan area of Molo in Nakuru burst in to flames living a trail of death and destruction.

President Mwai Kibaki, who is away attending the African Union (AU) summit meetings in Addis Ababa, has ordered the national flag to fly at half-mast as a mark of respect for the victims.

He also sent a message of condolence to the families, relatives and friends of the more than 100 people who perished when a petrol tanker burst into flames.

The president said he was saddened that so many Kenyans had lost their lives through such a tragic accident that had traumatised many families and expressed sympathy for the bereaved families and wished all those who had been admitted to various hospitals with serious burns a quick recovery.

The Head of State regretted that such a tragic accident occurred so soon after another fire killed many innocent lives at the Nakumatt supermarket in Nairobi and he directed all relevant arms of the government to take necessary measures to avert such tragedies.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga meanwhile, said the government would adopt new measures to deal with escalating poverty which had reduced most Kenyans into paupers living just one day at a time.

However, he appealed to Kenyans not to succumb to hopelessness and desperation, hard as life might be.

"Poverty is pushing our people into doing desperate things just to get through one more day," he said when he visited victims of the Molo tanker explosion at the Rift Valley Provincial Hospital in Nakuru.

"Everywhere, people are trying to do delicate arithmetic as they try to survive. They are trying to figure out whether they need to buy unga or a match box or a packet of milk or a half a kilogramme of meat.

"Everywhere, what is emerging is that Kenyans are finding it hard to get all these at one go. So if you buy a packet of milk, you forget about buying paraffin. If you buy unga, you forget about meat. Eventually, what you buy or don't buy will determine whether you pay fees when school opens or you stay with your children at home."

Mr Odinga said the time had come for the government to commit itself to take new measures to deal with the poverty.

The new thinking must include devising ways of pricing goods and services in a way that shows the country knows that there are people living below poverty line and they too deserve a decent living.

At the Rift Valley Provincial Hospital, Mr Odinga visited victims with various degrees of burns, with some saying they were burnt as they tried to rescue their kin.

He likened the Molo tragedy to a similar one that occurred in Sidindi, Siaya District a few years ago and asked Kenyans to use the incidents as learning experiences to avoid similar occurrences in future.

Mr Odinga said the Molo tragedy and the one that happened in Nakumatt, Nairobi, were evidence that the government must move in and ensure that safety measures exist.

He asked the Ministry of Transport to immediately bar drivers of lorries and tankers from parking by the roadside, saying they had caused many accidents.

More than 100 people perished when the tanker exploded as the people were trying to scoop fuel that had spilled following an accident.

According to Dr. Wanyoike, a neuro surgeon at Kenyatta National Hospital in thecapital, 39 patients airlifted to Nairobi suffered third degree burns and were in critical condition.

The hospital is appealing for blood donations from well wishers to deal with the unprecedented scale of disaster.

Head of civil service Francis Muthaura said the government had responded to the disaster and was co-ordinating rescue operations. The military was also called in to assist in airlifting the victims.