Emergency Crews Looted Nairobi Airport As It Burned

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A little over a week since the fire at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, reports have surfaced that the very emergency crews who were supposed to be containing and putting out the inferno looted the deserted building as it burned to the ground.

Foreign exchange bureaus at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at Nairobi’s airport, according to  Kenya’s NTV,  had been broken into and robbed during and after the fire. Also targets of the looters were ATMs and a safe.

The looting by the emergency crews raised the possibility in the minds of some Kenyans that if they hadn’t been so busy looting, the blaze could have been contained more quickly and the damage could have been minimized.

The fire began around 5:00 a.m. and totally destroyed the main airport terminal.

Emergency crews reportedly fought the fire using plastic buckets

The emergency crew personnel who tried to put the fire out, rather than take part in the looting, didn’t have adequate equipment and means to combat such a big blaze. Kenyan newspapers had photographs on their front pages of security officials responding to the emergency with plastic buckets filled with water. According to local news reports, others attempted to use handheld fire extinguishers.

Still, even with these embarrassing problems, Kenyan officials have stated that the airport will reopen and be fully functioning Thursday at midnight, and international flights would resume.

Detectives have examined the building and interviewed overnight staff members in an effort to determine the cause of the blaze. Speculation in the Kenyan news media as to the cause has included as theories an electrical wiring fault, sabotage, and an effort by immigration officials to destroy evidence that they had been taking bribes to allow people into the country illegally.

Online social media sites have angrily called for the resignations of airport and emergency service bosses, blaming them for the inferno getting out of control and not being put out more expediently.

The closure of Kenya’s Nairobi  airport has cost the airport, and the entire country of Kenya, a lot of money, as tour operators had to cancel international bookings during Kenya’s peak touring season

Ben Ngunga, tour manager at Abercrombie & Kent Tours in Nairobi, stated:

We have huge, huge losses due to the closure of the airport. We are getting a lot of cancellations from our clients.

“If the situation is not checked immediately we are going to lose big as a company, and it will also mean a big economic loss for the country as whole.”

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport,according to Kenyan reports, handles 4 million passengers a year. Having it closed for even a brief time right before its busiest season has had an economic impact upon the airport and the country.

Eutychus Waithaka, chief executive of the Kenya Assn. of Air Operators, said:

There will be huge costs. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is the hub of flight operations from most countries, and airlines cannot abandon their passengers. So they will have to provide alternative transport and accommodation.

“Business will be lost and that brings our economy down.”

On Thursday, the re-opening of the airport involved using the domestic terminal for passengers instead of the fire-damaged international hall. Kenya Airways flights from London and Bangkok were the first to land safely, according to Eric Kiraithe, head of security at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Michael Kamau told journalists at the airport:

From midnight today we are opening up the airport to full operations.”

Also, Kamau said that a temporary terminal will be set up in the coming days to bridge the gap until terminal 4, currently under construction and scheduled for completion in March 2014, has been repaired sufficiently enough to be placed back in service.

With the re-opening of Nairobi’s airport, hopefully it will start a new page in the JKIA’s history, and Kenya can put behind it the disastrous fire and the looting by emergency crews as the airport burned.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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