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Tears, frustration as Gikomba burns again

Irene Githinji @Gitshee

“I live with four children, two of who are my sister’s. The eldest one, 14, was able to escape but we still cannot find three others…My sister is on her way to Nairobi and I do not know what to tell her.”

The hopelessness, dejection and frustration by a teary Betty Kaveke summed up the despondency around Gikomba on this tragic morning of a June Thursday. East Africa’s ‘supermarket’ of second-hand clothes was once again grieving. A dawn fire, had once more visited the sleeping residents gutting property worth millions.

The fires, which seem to have an uncanny preference for the month of June and the hour between 2am and 4am have always left a trail of destruction costing the traders and economy millions of shillings in lost property.

Unlike previous infernos, however, this struck with a vengeance, leaving at least 15 dead in its wake and tens, perhaps hundreds, with injuries. The only things Kaveke was able to salvage from her business premise were a handful of half-burnt notes in various denominations.   

Another relative, Godwin Emmanuel, said he was still struggling to come to terms with the turn of events. His sister and her husband were among patients admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), where more than 70 victims were rushed with broken bones and burn injuries.

He said his sister, who lived living on the fifth floor of the residential flat adjacent to the scene of fire, told him the fire started at a nearby timber shed before spreading fast. The intensity of the flames was fuelled by mattresses and cushions sold nearby, he said.

A relative of some of the victims breaks down at the Kenyatta National Hospital where more than 70 were rushed after the tragedy struck yesterday morning. Photo/TIMOTHY NJENGA

“I was at the hospital very early to visit my sister, she told me to look for her missing child. So I went back to the scene but unfortunately found the child had died in the fire. I still do not know how to break the news to her,” he said.

He said some of those injured were scampering for safety, with a majority opting to jump off the storeyed building instead of taking the stairs.

Another victim, Charity Kemboi, who lives on the fifth floor of the adjacent building, said she was awakened by screams and as she fled, sprained her ankle. She was, however, treated and discharged.

Families of the victims thronged KNH to follow up on their kin’s progress even as they expressed frustrations as they had not been allowed to see those admitted by midday.

Acting chief executive Thomas Mutie said the hospital had received at least 70 patients as at 7.30am yesterday, with the first patient being brought in at 3.am.

He said the victims included 28 males and 42 females, among them 17 children, and were being managed for shock, burns and smoke inhalation.

Dr Mutie also said five patients sustained more than 30 per cent burns and were admitted in critical unit for specialised treatment. Five victims, four female children and one female adult, succumbed to injuries while undergoing treatment.

Another four sustained fractures on the lower limbs, with Mutie saying the hospital has opened and admitted patients in the disaster ward for continued care.

“Majority of the patients are being treated for anxiety burn and soft tissue injuries. 24 have already been treated and discharged while 41 have been admitted,” he said.

“We are happy that we have managed to stabilise all the patients and now they are under care of out multidisciplinary team of specialists.”

KNH has since established an information centre to help in patients’ tracing and enhance reunion with their relatives.

At the same time, President Uhuru Kenyatta joined Kenyans in condoling with families affected in the tragedy and wished well to those recovering.

He assured support for victims and their families and promised investigations will be launched to establish the cause of the fire, and a way to end recurrence of such tragedies. The President further said the National and County governments will sit for a review of emergency services and disaster preparedness.

“Kenyans have lost loved ones; many victims, some of them young children, remain in critical condition in hospital. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and to their families…We owe the victims, and the people of Nairobi, a clear, credible plan to end these fires,” he said in a statement.

Starehe MP Charles Kanyi visited victims at KNH and assured of his support. He called for a probe into recurrent fires at the market saying the matter should be addressed once and for all because it is a source of livelihood for many.

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