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Kenyan president slams ‘incompetence’, ‘corruption’ after deadly blast

Kenyan President William Ruto on Saturday blamed incompetent and corrupt government officials for a deadly gas blast in Nairobi that killed three people and injured 280.

A truck laden with gas canisters exploded just before midnight Thursday in Embakasi, a densely populated Nairobi district, unleashing a trail of destruction and sending people running for their lives.

The Petroleum Institute of East Africa said on Friday that the explosion occurred at an “illegal LPG refilling and storage site” whose owner and some customers had been convicted and sentenced in May 2023.

But Kenya’s National Environment Authority (NEMA) on Saturday said Maxxis Nairobi Energy had obtained permission on February 2 last year to operate the site.

280 people were injured in the fire / © AFP

“Preliminary investigations have revealed that four NEMA officers unprocedurally processed the licence and are therefore culpable,” NEMA Board Chairman Emilio Mugo said in a statement.

“The board therefore, directs that the implicated officers step aside immediately pending further investigation by the relevant government agencies,” he said.

– ‘Incompetence and corruption’ –

President Ruto, without mentioning NEMA, said: “Government officials issued licences for gas installations in residential areas when it was very clear that it was the wrong thing to do, but because of incompetence and corruption they issued licences,” he said.

Ruto said they should be sacked and “prosecuted for the crimes they have committed”.

A joint statement by the interior and energy ministers said that according to preliminary findings, “the refilling of LPG cylinders was done using direct manifold connections to LPG tanker increasing the risk of leakage and explosion”.

Map of Kenya locating its capital city Nairobi / © AFP

“Twice in March 2020 and January 2021, the plant that was illegally constructed at the said location was demolished… the operators charged in court,” it added.

“As we call for caution and adherence to the rule of law, those culpable in this unacceptable occurrence will be held accountable,” Kenya’s Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.

Government spokesman Isaac Maigua Mwaura said three Kenyans died and 280 others were taken to hospital after the explosion ignited a “huge ball of fire that spread widely”.

The inferno damaged vehicles and many businesses, with a garment and textile factory burned to the ground.

Douglas Kanja, Deputy Inspector of Police, said a guard at the gas site had been arrested and investigations were ongoing.

Residents said they had long feared such a disaster, accusing the government of being “irresponsible” by allowing inflammable products to be stored near their homes.

“Why do we have gas plants in the middle of estates? This is a residential area and that is a gas plant right there. And it is not one, there are several,” Magdalene Kerubo, 34, told AFP.

Kenya’s Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) also said it had denied permission three times last year for the construction of an LPG storage and filling plant at the site.

“The main reason for the rejection was failure of the designs to meet the safety distances stipulated,” it said, noting “the high population density around the proposed site”.

Embakasi is a residential and industrial area with a population of about one million according to the 2019 census and lies 10 kilometres (six miles) from Kenya’s main international airport.

Source: RTL