Gasoline firestorm sweeps through Nairobi slum

World Vision staff are assisting survivors of the recent gas line explosion.

By John Schenk, World Vision. Edited by Shawna Templeton, World Vision U.S.
Published September 13, 2011 at 12:00am PDT

Leaking gasoline ignited a firestorm in a densely populated Sinai slum in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 120 people and destroying more than 300 structures. More than 300 people required treatment for serious burns and injuries.

World Vision on the scene

World Vision staff members are assisting familes and children at a camp set up in a nearly sports stadium to serve the displaced.

We have delivered 500 emergency kits through the Red Cross, the lead agency, in accordance with government protocols. The kits include blankets, tarps, cooking utensils, and hygiene items.

An assessment is being conducted to determine whether sponsored children and their families were impacted. Initial reports indicate no sponsored children have been affected and staff members are safe.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it’

“I saw many dead bodies, but there were many more who were injured or wounded,” says Charles Kariuki, a World Vision videographer, who was on site soon after the explosion. “There were people standing in the streets who weren’t sure where to go or what to do next. It was horrible. I’ve never seen anything like it. So many people lost their homes.”

Villagers had detected a leak from the pipeline that runs through the village. Many were collecting oil from the leaking pipe when it exploded.

Worst fire disaster in Kenya’s history

The blaze is one of the worst fire disasters ever recorded in the East African country, which has experienced at least four major fires in the last five years.

“This tragedy could have been avoided,” says Michael Arunga, World Vision’s emergency communications advisor. “It conjured up memories of another fuel tanker that capsized two years ago, prompting poor residents to scramble for leaking fuel, before the tanker burst into flames, killing scores of people.”

About one year ago, guards locked the doors of a burning Nairobi supermarket “to avoid customers looting,” Arunga said. Many people perished as a result.

Slum difficult to navigate, hampers response

Because this fire was in a crowded and unorganized slum, fire responders said it was difficult to navigate narrow, winding corridors to get at the blaze.

“The rural economies aren’t working for the vast majority of people in Kenya, so the urban pull to jobs is strong,” explains Nick Wasumma, a senior advisor for World Vision in Kenya. “This slum is mostly people who work as daily labors in an adjacent industrial area.”

He added that the fire would have killed many more if it had happened at night, because entire families would have been in their makeshift shanties. The community has no streetlights to illuminate escape routes.

Two ways you can help

Pray for families who are suffering because of the explosion. Pray for those who lost families members in this tragedy, and pray that those affected would get the help that they need.

Make a one-time gift to World Vision’s Disaster Response Fund. Your donation will help us respond quick and effectively to humanitarian emergencies around the world.