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123 people burn to death in two Kenyan infernos

By Adriana Stuijt     Feb 1, 2009 in Politics
In Molo, Kenya, at least 98 people were torched to death when an overturned petrol tanker caught fire while locals were swarming all over it trying to scoop up free fuel. Four days earlier, 25 people died in a supermarket inferno in Nairobi.
This tanker disaster is the central Kenyan region's worst-ever accident however, said interior minister George Saitoti on Sunday, according to the East Standard newspaper in Kenya and Al Jazeera news network.
see
10-million people in famine:
It could not have come at a worst time: the region has also been struck by a famine affecting some 10-million people due to political unrest. See
"98 people are confirmed killed and another 178 have been injured," Interior Minister George Saitoti told reporters on Sunday as he inspected the scene of the deadly blaze near the Rift Valley town of Molo, 150 kilometres northwest of Nairobi.
Many of the burn victims were rushed to the Rift Valley provincial hospital in Nakuru -- where, exactly a year earlier on 31 January 2008, medical staff also had to cope with countless victims of ethnic violence between political rivals in which some 80 people had lost their lives and some 300 others were injured and hundreds of houses were torched.
That's also where, a year ago, more than 100 bodies, most of them burnt and badly mutilated, were packed in the adjacent municipal mortuary -- which has a capacity for only 40 bodies. And the entire region only has one fire-station... See history of Nakuru Rift Valley Hospital:
Bodies burnt beyond recognition were still strewn across the road as emergency services struggled to cope with the number of casualties. The injured were dispatched to several hospitals in the region, while some were to be airlifted on military planes to Nairobi and extra body bags also had to be sent from the capital, rescuers said.
Taking free fuel
"Among those killed are four police officers who had gone to the scene to control the crowd scooping fuel," Saitoti said. According to witnesses and rescue services, a truck carrying petroleum products overturned on the roadside after an accident late Saturday.
The crashed tanker was soon swarmed by dozens of locals who rushed with jerricans and other makeshift containers to siphon a few litres of free fuel from the spilling truck and a nearby ditch. Some witness accounts said the spill may have been set ablaze when one member of the crowd lit a cigarette.
Kenya police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said from the scene that the exact circumstances of the accident were still being investigated. Kenya Red Cross Public Relations officer Titus Mung'ou said: "There were many people at the scene who had gone to scoop fuel, that is when the tanker exploded. The fire seems to have been ignited by something like a matchbox."
Explosion
"I saw a crowd at the scene of the accident, then I rushed there when I heard there was fuel. I had taken the first jerrican back to my home and when I came back for the second, I heard an explosion and it was like we all caught fire. I don't even know how I got here," 25-year-old Michael Kerich told AFP, lying on a blanket on the floor of Rift Valley provincial hospital in Nakuru.
Such accidents are relatively frequent in oil-rich Nigeria on Africa's north-west coast, but the carnage near Molo was the worst such disaster to hit this east-African country, which was recently hit by frequent fuel shortages and is in the middle of a famine ten-million people due to political unrest during last sowing season.
see our previous story:
"This is a national disaster, it is so unfortunate that we have lost many people in two tragedies in less than a week," Saitoti said. On Wednesday, a central Nairobi supermarket was also completely destroyed by flames, killing at least 25 people. Four days later, rescuers were still sifting through the rubble to look for the bodies of missing people believed to have been trapped in the inferno. see
More about 123 dead, Two infernos, Kenya, Supermarket, Famine
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