Dark black smoke was visible across much of Nairobi as emergency teams battled the blaze, which has forced the airport's closure and the re-routing of all inbound flights
A huge blaze has engulfed the arrivals hall at Kenya’s main international airport.
The fire forced the closure of East Africa’s largest air hub and the re-routing of all inbound flights.
Dark black smoke was visible across much of Nairobi as emergency teams battled the blaze at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Stranded passengers stood on pavements outside the airport their luggage in hand while armed police formed a cordon to stop traffic from enterting the site.
Reporters said the fire, which raged for four hours, gutted the international arrivals hall where passengers pass through immigration and retrieve their luggage.
Kenya Airports Authority said the airport had been closed until further notice so emergency teams could battle the fire.
While there were no immediate signs that terrorism played any role in the fire, Kenya’s anti-terror police chief, Boniface Mwaniki, said he wanted to wait for the fire to be put out so he could inspect the scene before making any judgment.
Michael Kamau, the cabinet secretary for transport and infrastructure, said the fire began at 5am in the immigration section of the arrivals hall. He said no injuries had been reported. Inbound flights were diverted to the coastal city of Mombasa, he said.
The Kenyan capital’s airport is the busiest airport in East Africa and its closure will affect flights throughout the region.
As in many countries in East Africa, public sector services like police and fire units are hobbled by small budgets and outdated or no equipment. A British passenger, Martyn Collbeck, said he was surprised that the airport was not shut down sooner so emergency vehicles could respond.
“When I arrived there were one or two fire engines parked outside the international arrivals. It spread very fast,” said Mr Collbeck, who had been scheduled to fly to London on an early morning KLM flight.
“There were a couple of explosions which I think were a couple of gas canisters. I would have expected more fire engines to respond faster.”
Barry Fisher, a trade specialist who lives in Nairobi, described the scene as chaos.
“It was huge, the smoke billowing, and it didn’t seem to be stopping. There was no one stopping any traffic going to the road to the airport. A number of fire trucks and ambulances were trying to negotiate their way through the lane. They were trying to weave their way through a solid two lanes of cars.”
The country’s largest newspaper, the Daily Nation, reported last month that Nairobi County does not have a single working fire engine, and that three fire engines were auctioned off in 2009 because the county had not paid a repair bill.
“It is a disgrace of biblical proportions that the entire Nairobi County does not have a public fire engine in working condition,” the paper wrote in an editorial last month. “When (government leaders) were debating their budgets, they did not deem it fit to set aside money either to buy new ones or repair the old ones. But they did set aside money to build mansions for governors, (buy) big vehicles for county executives and other needs without a direct benefit to Kenyans.”
The paper said the collapse of the fire department means responses to disasters are in the hands of private companies and the military.