Kenyan president vows to find airport blaze culprits

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 09, 2013 12:43 PM
Kenyan president vows to find airport blaze culprits

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya will find out who or what was responsible for a fire that destroyed parts of the capital's international airport, President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Friday as authorities scrambled to return east Africa's transport hub to normal operations.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, sub-Saharan Africa's fourth busiest airport, opened to all international flights on Friday for the first time since Wednesday's blaze but there was chaos at a makeshift terminal.

The fire gutted the cavernous arrivals hall and damaged some of the departures area, forcing the airport authorities to handle overseas passengers through a tiny domestic terminal, while domestic flights flew out of the cargo terminal.

"We want to find out who was responsible and why and we'll establish if anyone was culpable, including for gross negligence," Kenyatta told reporters at the airport, where parts of the wreckage still smoldered.

Officials say it is too early to say if arson or an accident was to blame. The Kenyan media has criticized the authorities for being slow to respond to the fire amid embarrassing reports that some first responders looted the airport as it burned.

Whether the fire deals a crushing blow to Kenya's reputation as a regional gateway depends on how quickly the airport can return to handling more than 16,000 passengers a day, analysts say.

Kenyatta said a temporary terminal with a capacity of 2.5 million people - or 6,850 people per day - would be constructed within weeks while the authorities would try to fast-track the construction of a new terminal due to open in March.

On Friday, long queues and a lack of information frustrated many passengers.

"I have two (medical) machines in my body that make my body work and I am having to go through this," complained American tourist Reba Harrison.

(Reporting by Ben Makori and Richard Lough; Editing by Michael Roddy)