An electrical fault is the likely cause for yesterday’s fire at the JomoKenyatta International Airport which grounded operations for several hours disrupting air travel in the country and the region.

Preliminary reports indicate that electrical wires which were left exposed following last week’s demolition of the duty free shops may have caused the blaze that destroyed the international arrivals and departure areas. No casualties were reported.

And even as forensic experts conducted their investigations, speculation was growing that the fire was  deliberately started to destroy evidence of a long running racket which allowed undocumented individuals to enter and leave the country undetected.

Sources within the police service indicated that five Immigration officers and their boss had been suspended after it was discovered they had been conducting a highly lucrative racket issuing documents to allow individuals to enter or leave the country.

The fire is reported to have started at the second desk of the Immigration department and spread quickly engulfing all the buildings in thick smoke. The Kenya Airport Authority and police had to quickly evacuate all people from the smoke-filled buildings before as fire engines from the National Youth Service, G4S, KK Security, Nairobi City Council, Kenya Defence Force, Kenya Airports Authority rushed to the terminal to fight the fire.

The 5 am quickly spread through the terminal handling international arrivals and departures but spared Unit 3 which handles domestic traffic.

President Uhuru Kenyatta led a group of senior government officials on a tour of the airport and assured the traveling public that everything was being done to ensure the airport resumed services quickly.

In a statement issued after the tour by the head of the presidential strategic communication unit head Manoah Esipisu, Uhuru instructed all government officials to ensure that everything is done to bring the situation back to normal.

Uhuru also cautioned Kenyans not to speculate about the cause of fire but instead let investigators establish the circumstances that led to the fire.

Most of the flights scheduled to land at the JKIA were rerouted to Mombasa and Eldoret. The staff who were on leave or off duty at these two airports were recalled to help deal with the huge number of passengers.

Cargo and local flights resumed yesterday while arrangements were being made to ensure resumption of international flights.

Transport Secretary Micheal Kamai said the airport emergency operations team was mobilized to prepare the domestic departure and arrival units ready to handle international flights.

Kenya Airways gave passengers whose flights were rerouted to Mombasa the option of travelling to Nairobi by road. Of the nearly 500 passengers, about 200 opted to take up the offer. Many of those were passengers who were in the five KQ diverted to Mombasa.

Qatar Airways transported its passengers by road from Kenya to Mt Kilimanjaro from where they would be flown to the final destination.

British Airways cancelled all  its flights and gave customers the option of a refund or reschedule their flights.

Middle East airline Etihad said in a statement: “Passengers currently in transit at our hub in Abu Dhabi are being provided with hotel accommodation and lounge access, and are being re-booked on tomorrow’s flight, which will be upgraded to a larger aircraft to accommodate the additional passengers.”

JKIA is covered by insurance company APA which said that it had deployed its loss adjustors and its investigators to the scene to assess the damage.

“Our reinsurers have also been informed of this loss and we are now waiting for the formalities to be complete for us to process the claim,” said APA’s Suresh Kumar.

Fresh produce exporters said they stood to lose $3.6 million per day if the international passenger and cargo flight operations are not reopened soon and by 5pm yesterday, they were still hopeful of sending at least some of their shipments to Europe to reduce the losses.

Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya said yesterday that vegetable exports would be the most affected since they heavily rely (about 70 per cent of it) on belly capacity on passenger airlines. For the other fresh produce like flowers, majority is transported via cargo planes which were to resume last evening as per a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Transport Michael Kamau.

JKIA handles about 16,000 passengers a day which translates to approximately six million passengers annually.

Paul Rege, the proprietor of Micro City  Computers Ltd, a company that was installing security cameras at the JKIA said that he had lost equipment and installation worth over Sh98 million after the fire burnt up everything that he and his employees had so far installed.

– the-star.co.ke

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