Barely three days had passed since a ferry sunk with the lives of close to two hundred people in Zanzibar. East Africa was still in shock. The last time people that number died in one incident was back in August, 1997, when the Co-operative Bank along Haile Sellasie Avenue was bombed. I don’t remember any other incident carrying many lost lives since then. The occurence that hit Nairobi’s Mukuru- Sinai slums left the whole nation, and probably the world, in stitches, agape with the resulting damages and fatalities.
A hungry fire had broken out after it is alleged that someone lit a cigarette near a leaking petroleum pipeline. The residents of this humble slum area were going about their daily activities, of course very much aware that they lived right above a petroleum pipeline. It is a conjested place, just as you would expect an informal settlement to be. Midway through the morning, the smell of petrol engulfed the atmosphere, and as it was the norm, since it was not the first time this was happening, opportunistic citizens rushed to the point of leakeage to siphon the petrol. Disaster was looming. Not that Kenyans haven’t died from such incidences where a lorry carrying petrol had overturned and they rushed to siphon the oil only for something to go wrong and it blew up, blowing away many lives. It has happened, but you get this feeling that slum dwellers love risking and daring, and in the end, people blame poverty for their misfortunes.
On this 12th day of September, as some were still nursing their Monday blues, their comrades were busy siphoning petrol at a leaking pipeline, then the unexpected happened. The fire raged out, raising the temporary shelters which are the majority in the slum, sweeping everything that came its way…and I mean everything. From houses, to the grass, to children, to women, to men, who were incidentally the majority of casualties. Fire burns…fire really burns. While the people tried their best to save those they could, including their belongings, as they waited for the fire brigade to show up, Mukuru-Sinai was literally in tears. The site was horrific. Soon after, the news of the goings-on hit the airwaves.
Close to 120 people have lost their lives, and painfully, the toll could be heading for a rise. Some of the survivors came out with 30%-100% burns, the Kenya Redcross reported. Images of lost children, women with agony faces, crying men, are the sorry and touching aftermath that bequeathed the affected. Sad…very sad. As this week fades away, we can only hold on and pray that the government will take the necessary measures to sort out the situation and bring their lives back to normal. As I write this, some people have not yet traced their loved ones. It’s hard to contemplate whether your missing kin was consumed by the angry inferno, or they escaped to some unknown place and are looking for help.
It is sad.