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Week of mourning for Kenya fires

Burned out oil tanker in Molo, Kenya (01/02/2009)
The tanker caught fire as people were trying to collect its spilt fuel

Kenya's government has declared a week of mourning after two fatal fires in the country in the past five days.

At least 25 people were killed in a fire at a supermarket in Nairobi, and more than 100 died when a petrol tanker exploded near the town of Molo.

Flags will fly at half mast and all official functions have been postponed to mark "a national disaster.

The Kenyan authorities have been criticised what some say is a failure to address public safety.

On Saturday, at least 111 people died in Molo in the Rift Valley, after an overturned road tanker caught fire and exploded.

Hundreds of people were gathered around the tanker to collect spilled fuel when the fire broke out.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga said that had highlighted the desperate condition of Kenya's poorest people.

It is so unfortunate that we have lost many people in two tragedies in less than a week
Interior Minister George Saitoti

"Poverty is pushing our people into doing desperate things just to get through one more day," he said.

"This being a rural area, there was no response by any disaster team because there is no such team."

About 200 people were injured in the fire, some critically. The death toll is expected to rise.

Public Health Minister Beth Mugo said the government would pay the medical bills for those injured.

'National disaster'

The cause of the tanker fire is still not clear.

People run from a burning supermarket in Nairobi, Kenya (28/0/2009)
Many people are still missing after the supermarket fire

Some reports said it was caused by a lit cigarette, but others said it had been started deliberately by people who had been prevented from getting to the spilt fuel.

The Nation newspaper has criticised what it said was a slow official response to the fire, which was still reported to be burning several hours later.

The incident came as the emergency services continued to search through the remains of a supermarket in Nairobi, which burnt down on Wednesday, killing at least 25 people.

The Nation said 25 of the 52 people reported missing had still not been accounted for, but said some of the missing may not have been in the premises at the time.

Kenyan media had also criticised the emergency response to that disaster, calling it slow and inadequate.

Interior Minister George Saitoti described the fires as "a national disaster".

"It is so unfortunate that we have lost many people in two tragedies in less than a week," he said.

The BBC's Peter Greste, in Nairobi, says Kenya's emergency services have a poor record for public safety standards.

SEE ALSO
Scores killed in Kenya oil fire
01 Feb 09 |  Africa
Country profile: Kenya
04 Dec 08 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Kenya
04 Dec 08 |  Country profiles

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