Steve Robson, Daily Mail (London), August 9, 2013
First responders who arrived at massive airport fire in Kenya looted electronics, a bank and an ATM, it has been claimed.
Officials investigating the fire at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport told the Associated Press valuables were stolen by emergency services including police, firefighters and the army.
The fire broke out on the 15th anniversary of U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people in total, mostly Kenyans, but also a dozen Americans.
Today, international flights resumed landing and taking off from the fire-damaged airport and officials said they expected to return to full operations by the day’s end.
Kenyan officials, assisted by members of the FBI, are investigating the cause of the fire.
Anonymous sources have alleged that first responders stole electronics and money from an ATM. It is also believed that police guarding the site overnight attempted to a take a safe from a bank in the burned-out arrivals hall, which also houses several foreign currency exchange shops.
All public servants in Kenya, including police, firefighters and soldiers, are poorly paid and frequently accused of corruption. Police officers who guard the entrance to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport are well known in Nairobi for demanding bribes from taxi drivers and other vehicles with Kenyan drivers.
The fire-fighting response to Wednesday’s inferno was criticized as slow and inadequate, but the officials could not definitely say the looting was carried out by firefighters.
One official said there was now behind-the-scenes finger pointing taking place between the police, fire department and army. Another official said specialized police units had attempted to steal the safe overnight.
The criminal investigations policeman for the airport, Joseph Ngisa, said he hasn’t received formal complaints of theft and that police are waiting for affected institutions to report what they lost in the fire.
A security official said the investigation had ruled out terrorism and was now trying to determine if the fire was intentional or accidental.
Michael Kamau, the cabinet secretary for transport and infrastructure, said the design of the airport – constructed in the mid-1970s – made it challenging for firefighters to access certain areas with water hoses.
But Kamau insisted he was ‘satisfied’ by the response of firefighters from private companies but did not mention the airport firefighters, who responded slowly and whose equipment wasn’t fully functioning.
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is East Africa’s largest aviation hub, and the fire disrupted air travel across the continent as the airport canceled all international flights. Many inbound flights were diverted to Tanzania and the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa. Domestic flights were being operated from the airport’s cargo terminal.
Firefighters were desperately short of equipment. The airport has fire trucks but some were not filled with water and personnel couldn’t be found to drive others. At one point while battling the blaze men in government uniforms lined up to pass buckets of water to fight the fire.
No serious injuries were reported.
President Barack Obama called Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to offer U.S. support.
Nairobi is the capital of East Africa’s largest economy, but public-sector services such as police and fire departments are hobbled by small budgets, corrupt money managers and outdated equipment or an absence of equipment.
‘From what you can see the damage is pretty extensive. It has extended until the immigration area. The electrical system is all down. Mechanical systems are all down. You can see the displays are all down, so it’s huge,’ said Ali Ayoob, an airport engineer.