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Week of mourning for Kenyan tragedies

KENYA has begun a week of mourning for at least 131 people who died in a petrol tanker blaze and another fire in a Nairobi supermarket ?? disasters that have brought a torrent of criticism of the authorities' poor preparedness.

Flags flew at half-mast and official functions were put on hold as rescuers continued to pull charred bodies from both disaster sites and relatives hunted for missing people.

In one of Kenya's worst accidents of recent times, at least 106 people died when a crowd scrabbling for free fuel crowded round a tanker that crashed near central Molo town on Saturday.

A cigarette set off the blaze, engulfing the crowd in flames, and also leaving nearly 200 people injured.

In Nairobi, a supermarket burned down last Wednesday, but it was only days later that the scale of the disaster became clear, with 25 corpses pulled out and two dozen people still missing.

"President Mwai Kibaki has declared one week of national mourning," said a government statement. "All official functions and celebrations have been put on hold for the whole week."

Kenyans have lambasted the responses to both disasters, saying authorities were unprepared and late. Witnesses spoke of locked fire doors at the Nakumatt supermarket, and hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of dead and injured near Molo.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the image of poor Kenyans dying as they scrabbled in the road for fuel under darkness on Saturday was an indictment of the state of the nation.

"Poverty is pushing our people into doing desperate things just to get through one more day," he said, visiting victims of the Molo blaze. "There was no response by any disaster team because there is no such team."

In hospitals, the injured shared beds or lay on floors. "I saw a wave of fire and before I knew it, my face and leg were burning," said Simon Mwangi, 22, in Molo district hospital.

"I tried to remove my trousers but they were stuck to my skin. That is all I remember until I woke up in this hospital."

Most officials said a cigarette caused the Molo blaze.

Some witnesses said a man angered at being stopped by police from scooping petrol deliberately threw a cigarette butt on the ground. Police were demanding bribes, some said, though authorities have denied that.


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