A lorry carrying liquid petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders exploded in the Mradi area of the Embakasi neighbourhood in Nairobi around 11:30 pm on Thursday. The late-night gas explosion resulted in significant damage, with burned homes, warehouses, and a rising casualty count.
At least three people have been confirmed dead, and over 270 others are reported injured, with 24 in critical condition. Authorities fear the death toll may rise as emergency services, including the police and Kenya Red Cross, continue to manage casualties and transport the injured to various hospitals.
The lorry was parked in a gas cylinder storage site whose construction applications were rejected last year due to its proximity to residential areas. Kenya’s Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority is now questioning the legality of the storage site’s operation. The rejected applications highlighted safety concerns, including inadequate design and failure to meet required safety distances.
Witness reports describe a suspected gas leak sound, followed by at least two explosions and a fireball that lit up the night sky. Witness videos show the fireball erupting after a blast next to residential blocks, accompanied by audible screams. Alfred Juma, a nearby resident, heard a loud noise from a gas cylinder in the storage site next to his house, suspected a gas leak, and helped evacuate neighbours.
The fire spread to homes in the residential area, causing potential harm to people inside. A flying gas cylinder ignited a fire that burned down a nearby garment and textile warehouse. The blaze also damaged other vehicles and businesses in the vicinity.
Alfred Juma lost all his possessions in the fire but managed to assist two children to safety in a sewage ditch. Charles Mainge witnessed multiple explosions, expressed concerns over the gas site operating in the residential area, and criticised the government for allowing it to exist without intervention.
The Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority revealed that the gas storage site applied for construction permits multiple times in the previous year, all rejected due to safety concerns. The gas storage business failed to submit required risk assessments, including a “blast profile” estimating the impact of an explosion on surrounding areas.
The authorities’ handling of the gas storage site’s continued operation will likely face scrutiny. Accusations against county government officials for taking bribes to overlook building codes and regulations have surfaced. This situation raises questions about the effectiveness and integrity of regulatory enforcement, emphasising the need for accountability and adherence to safety standards.
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