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Oil spill blaze burns 100 to death in Kenya

Reuters
Feb 01, 2009 at 05:12pm IST

Kenya: Rescuers combed a crash site in Kenya on Sunday where oil spilt from a truck caught fire and killed around 100 people in one of the east African nation's worst disasters of recent times.

Regional authorities on the scene revised the death toll down to 94 from 111 after difficulties counting the charred bodies under darkness at the scene in the central town of Molo on Saturday night.

"We counted 89 bodies last night and five have died this morning," Rift Valley provincial commissioner Hassan Noor Hassan told reporters.

DEATH BY FIRE: About 30 victims were airlifted in military planes for specialised treatment in the capital Nairobi.

The Red Cross said 110 had died, a health minister said 97, and police gave a toll of 91.

A truck crashed near Molo on Saturday evening, spilling oil that burst into flames as hundreds of locals crowded round in search of free fuel.

Many bodies were burned beyond recognition.

Rescuers said someone may have accidentally dropped a cigarette, although there was also suspicion someone angered at being blocked by police may have started the fire on purpose.

After the truck careered off the road, motorbike riders and others descended on the vehicle in the hope of scooping up petrol, witnesses said.

Rescue operations went on through the night in scenes of chaos and anguish.

PRAYERS

Hassan said the number of injured were 178, and medical facilities in the area were overwhelmed. "Some people have to sleep on the floor, despite their serious injuries. But we are going to airlift the most critical to Nairobi to decongest the hospitals."

In one hospital, badly-burned people lay on blankets on the ground, groaning in pain.

"Oh God, Oh God," one man moaned as he lay on the floor of another rural hospital, his arm burned pink.

Anxious relatives milled around hospitals and the scorched area of the crash site, hoping to find their kin.

"My two sons ran home, picked some jerry cans and ran to get some petrol. I tried to stop them but they did not listen, they told me everyone is going there for the free fuel," recounted one distraught woman, who would not give her name.

"Now I cannot trace them," she said, sobbing as she looked at the skull and bones of one corpse near the shell of the truck. Government ministers visited the scene on Sunday morning and prayed with victims in hospital.

"This is a national tragedy, and the government will foot all the bills," said Public Health Minister Beth Mugo. Another woman said she had last seen her 13-year-old son next to the overturned truck, jerry can in hand, before the inferno.

"Then there was a huge explosion and we ran into the forest and that is the last time I saw him," she said, wiping tears.

One 14-year-old boy was found in a thicket, his face swollen and blistered, dazed and unable to speak. He was rushed to hospital by journalists.

About 30 victims were airlifted in military planes for specialised treatment in the capital Nairobi.

The truck fire followed the deaths of at least 25 people in Nairobi when a supermarket caught fire earlier this week. Local media have been berating the government for poor safety standards and inadequate disaster preparedness. Kenya has a poor road safety record, with major accidents and multiple deaths common on its main thoroughfares.

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