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Burnt Like Firewood': Nearly 100 Dead in Kenyan Pipeline Fire Possibly Caused By Cigarette Butt


"I have never seen this in my life. I have seen women and children burnt like firewood."

A vicious fire has broken out in a slum within Kenya's capital Monday, after a leaking gasoline pipeline exploded. Reports say the inferno has killed at least 61 and possibly even more than 100 people.

For example, Al Jazeera says more than 100 people are feared to have burned to death in the fire that took place in Nairobi's densely-populated Lunga Lunga industrial area. The Telegraph has video of the graphic aftermath:

"We are putting the number of dead at over 100, we are waiting for body bags to put the victims into," Thomas Atuti, a local police commander, told Al Jazeera.

One local resident told the AFP news agency: "I have never seen this in my life. I have seen women and children burnt like firewood. The very worst was a woman burned with her baby on her back."

Flames leaped out from the pipeline in a radius of some 300 yards (meters), setting shacks ablaze and incinerating scores of people. Reporters later saw clusters of charred bodies and blackened bones at the site. Some burned bodies floated in a nearby river filled with sewage. Homes had been built right up to the pipeline, the residents said. The flimsy homes of corrugated iron sheets would have offered little resistance to the blast.

At the time of the explosion, the narrow, twisting alleyways would have been packed with people on their way to work or school who had stopped to try to scoop up fuel. "People were trying to scoop fuel from the pipeline," a Red Cross official told AFP by telephone.

The Red Cross was conducting search and rescue operations and had set up two tents for first aid and counseling, said Bernard Magila, who was helping the operation. Bodybags and materials for temporary shelter were also being provided.

The deputy police spokesman Charles Owino told Reuters that the fire was ignited by a cigarette butt that was tossed on to the dyke, which opens into a small river. The Kenya Pipeline Company, who operate the pipeline, had told the prime minister that the explosion was caused by a leak from the pipeline into nearby sewage, he said.

Provincial Commissioner Njoroge Ndirangu said that at least 61 bodies have been recovered so far, but said the death toll from the blast will rise.

Fires still smoldered among the twisted wreckage of corrugated iron sheets and scattered possessions. Visibility was poor because of rain and smoke.

Nearby, a young woman clawed through smoldering timbers, screaming in grief. Others wandered by the remains of the inferno, frantically dialing phone numbers that didn't go through or staring around in disbelief.

Resident Joseph Mwangi, 34, said he was feeding his cow when people went running past him, calling out that there was a leak in the pipeline. He said others started drawing fuel and that he was going to go and get a bucket and get fuel too when he heard an explosion around 9 a.m. By then fuel had leaked into the river and parts of the river had also caught fire. People in flames were jumping into the fiery, stinking mess, he said.

Moments after speaking to the AP, Mwangi discovered two small charred bodies in the burnt wreckage of his home.

"Those were my children," he said blankly, before collapsing on the ground sobbing.

Another man, Michael Muriuki, found the body of his 5-year-old daughter still smoldering. He ran to the river for water to put her out. He took a deep breath and struggled for control before speaking.

"Her name was Josephine Muriuki. She was five," he said.

At least 112 burn victims have arrived so far at Kenyatta National Hospital and they urgently need blood donors and blankets, said Richard Lisiyampe, the head of the hospital. Many children were among the victims. Most had burns covering more than a third of their bodies, he said. Some were unrecognizable, said St. John's Ambulance Service spokesman Fred Majiwa.

Inside the hospital, beds were crowded together and doctors and nurses rushed from victim to victim. Many had long strips of skin hanging from their heads and bodies. One man picked at his hands distractedly, peeling off skin like gloves.

"This is a terrible accident," said Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who visited the wounded in hospital. He said the government would cover medical expenses for the injured and pay compensation to those who lost loved ones.

In 2009, at least 120 people were killed when they were trying to scoop fuel spilled from a crashed petrol tanker in Kenya and it exploded. It was confirmed that cigarette set off that blaze.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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