At least 120 people have been burned to death after a pipeline burst into flames in a Nairobi slum as local people were siphoning fuel from it, and more than 100 have been injured.
Scores of bodies, some burned to the bone, lay on charred grass near trenches and a filthy river in the Sinai slum following the accident on Monday.
No official explanation has been given as to what caused the accident along the pipeline that runs through Sinai’s tin shacks.
However, some residents said fuel siphoning in the slum was a common practice.
“It happens whenever the Kenya Pipeline (company) is pumping fuel … we usually go to get fuel from there,” said Francis Munge.
“There are people who know how to open it (a valve) and I don’t know what happened this time for it to burst. Maybe there was a lot of pressure.”
Another resident, Kenneth Makau, said: “There is usually a long queue of people getting fuel with jerrycans from that pipeline. It is an open secret because even they (the company) know it very well. It has been happening.”
“The death toll from bodies counted so far is 120. It is likely to rise because of the bodies in the river,” said Philip Kisia, a Nairobi city council official.
Richard Lesiampe, the head of one of the country’s main hospitals in Nairobi, said 109 people were being treated for burns.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga expressed sympathy with the victims.
“It is a terrible, terrible situation. It is sad to see our people lose their lives like this,” Odinga said as he toured the slum.
Many residents were caught up in the blaze, which started around 0530 GMT (1530 AEST), and an AFP reporter counted scores of charred bodies around the scene.
“I have never seen this in my life. I have seen women and children burnt like firewood. The very worst was a woman burned with her baby on her back,” resident Francis Muendo told AFP.
Some of those whose clothing and hair caught fire jumped into a nearby stream to try to extinguish the flames, but many succumbed to their injuries in the water. Police later placed a net across the stream to prevent the bodies from drifting away.
Mutinda said the last of the injured had now been evacuated and he and his colleagues were concentrating on “support and tracing services”.
The sound of ambulance sirens ferrying away the injured for medical care gave way to the shouts of children, some in school uniform, running around searching for their parents.
Bystanders covered their mouths to avoid choking on the acrid smoke. Firefighters in protective clothing sprayed chemical foam to try to contain the fire, while police and soldiers roped off the area and pushed people back.
Houses close to the pipeline were also engulfed in flames, their tin roofs buckling and disintegrating and their badly burned residents evacuated for medical care.
Local televisions said scores of burn victims had been taken to hospital, and showed footage of the injured being ferried away by ambulance.
Fuel leaks and oil tanker accidents in Africa often draw huge crowds scrambling to scoop fuel, resulting in many deaths due to accidental fires.
In 2009, 122 people were killed after a fire erupted while they were drawing fuel from an overturned tanker in western Kenya.