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Kenyan fire kills 19, dozens missing

NINETEEN people were confirmed dead and dozens others were still missing yesterday, two days after a massive fire swept through a supermarket in downtown Nairobi, officials said.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said 19 people have been confirmed dead.

Joseph Mwangi, spokesman for Kenya's Disaster Management Center, said earlier that 47 people have been reported missing since the blaze at the Nakumatt supermarket. Rescue workers were sifting through the rubble.

The debris has continued to smolder, making it difficult to properly search parts of the store, police said. Authorities have said an electrical fault might be to blame for the fire.

The blaze started in the middle of the day when the streets were packed with people.

Thousands streamed out of nearby buildings as plumes of black smoke billowed into the air. The fire was fueled by gas canisters that popped like gunshots as they exploded.

"I came running because I knew my mum was shopping there," Ishmael Abdul Mohamed said amid a knot of angry people watching the rescue operation yesterday. "They ordered all doors closed, no one to enter or leave. I was trying to break the window with a dustbin because my mum and my sister were trapped inside but someone cocked a gun at me."

Nakumatt managers, at a news conference yesterday denied any doors were locked at the time of the blaze. A company statement said the store "was fully fire safety compliant and had been installed with advanced fire-smoke detectors."

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki visited the scene, halting the recovery process for a short while. "We will do what we can to assist all those who are hurt by this tragedy,'' he said.

The media berated the emergency response as slow and inadequate.

"A city like Nairobi with an estimated population of 3 million is served by one fire station situated close to the central business district where vehicular and pedestrian congestion is particularly heavy," the Daily Nation said.

"It is fair to say that ours is a modern city with an 18th century fire-fighting infrastructure."

One survivor, Jeremiah Omoyo, said he had jumped off the roof to escape.


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