Counting cost of Nairobi supermarket blaze

By Andrew Cawthorne

Nairobi - Thirty-nine people are missing and one is confirmed dead after a fire destroyed a supermarket in Nairobi on Wednesday.

"One man died from injuries when he jumped from the second floor of the building," Red Cross spokesman Titus Mung'ou said. "Another 39 people are unaccounted for."

Local media said many of the missing were feared dead after fire engulfed a large downtown store of Nakumatt, the east African nation's leading supermarket chain, on Wednesday.

Winesses said people leapt from the store and smoke engulfed central Nairobi for hours as firefighters fought the blaze, witnesses said. Some spoke of people trapped and screaming behind locked doors, though that could not be confirmed.

Nakumatt spokesperson woman Catherine Karanja could not give overall figures for those missing but confirmed five of 103 staff present at the time of the fire had not been found.

"We are still investigating the cause," she said.

The blaze started mid-afternoon when Nakumatt was packed with shoppers and the streets nearby were bustling with people.

Firefighters fought the flames for hours as office workers and shoppers in the area fled. The building was destroyed.

Nakumatt said its store had been in compliance with safety regulations. "We also wish to confirm that the building was fully fire safety compliant and had been installed with advanced fire/smoke detectors," it said.

One survivor, Jeremiah Omoyo, told of leaping off the roof to escape. "The crowd below was telling us to jump.

"I jumped, but cannot tell what happened to the others who were screaming behind me," said Omoyo, who hurt his leg.

Kenyan media berated the emergency response, saying firefighters arrived late and in inadequate numbers.

"A city like Nairobi with an estimated population of three 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.

"Ours is a modern city with an 18th century fire-fighting infrastructure." - Reuters

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