A huge fire engulfed the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday, temporarily closing down the busiest travel hub in east Africa. No injuries were reported, but the flames completely gutted the international arrivals area of the airport, shutting down international flights and cargo flights for a short period, while also sending spectacular columns of smoke and flames into the sky.
Officials have yet to identify a cause of the fire, but it comes on the 15-year anniversary of the bombings at the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed over 200 people. There is no apparent connection at the moment, but the BBC reports that some passengers reported hearing explosions in the international terminal, but Kenyan anti-terror boss Boniface Mwaniki told the AP that no determination of terrorism would be made until officials could fully inspect the airport after the flames are put down.
The fire raged for four to five hours Wednesday morning until they were controlled by firefighters and police. Officials told the Associated Press that 16,000 passengers come through the airport daily — many of whom are currently stranded — and some watched the high-rising dark plumes of smoke with luggage in hand. The still-intact parts of the airport have been reopened for domestic flights, some of which will function as temporary international terminals.
But the key loss may be in the hampering of Kenya's export businesses of cut flowers and tea, two of its key economic trade exports that bring in valuable foreign currencies.
In addition, police and fire department services have taken criticism for their slow reaction to the flames. A BBC correspondent in Nairobi reported that it took almost two hours for firefighters to respond, and they failed to close the roads heading for the airport, causing greater traffic jams and confusion among would-be passengers:
American student Emily Mosites was in the airport trying to get a flight to Kisumu when the fire broke out.
"There was no emergency direction on leaving - I just stood there watching the fire. There were no officials to tell anyone what to do.
"I wasn't told whether or not there were any flights departing. So I thought this was insane and decided to leave."
Video via AP
Photos via AP Photo/Sayyid Azim