A child is among three people who have died after a lorry loaded with gas cylinders exploded near an industrial site in Nairobi – igniting a “huge fireball that spread widely” as it burned through homes and warehouses.
The Kenyan government and Red Cross have said 271 people have been taken to various hospitals with injuries after the blasts in the Embakasi neighbourhood of the country’s capital on Thursday night.
The explosions took place at around 11:30pm local time (8:30pm UK time), with a number of people likely to have been inside their homes when the fire reached their properties, government spokesman Isaac Mwaura said.
Wesley Kimeto, police chief for Embakasi, said the deaths of an adult and a minor were confirmed at 4.30am local time (1.30am UK time) on Friday and the number of fatalities could rise.
Several vehicles and businesses were damaged by a raging inferno as the explosions sent a fiery smoke plume rising over homes, authorities said.
A witness told the Nation news site in Kenya that there were “huge explosions” and “huge fireballs”, with “people screaming and running everywhere for fear of more explosions”.
Mr Mwaura wrote in a post on X that a lorry that was carrying gas cylinders in the area exploded before “igniting a huge fireball that spread widely”.
He added that a “flying gas cylinder” struck a warehouse which deals with garments and textiles and burned it down.
Mr Mwaura wrote: “Consequently, the inferno further damaged several vehicles and commercial properties, including many small and medium-sized businesses. Sadly, residential houses in the neighbourhood also caught fire, with a good number of residents still inside as it was late at night.”
The vehicle believed to have started the explosion was tossed on its side, and only the shell remained on the road.
The roof of a four-storey residential building about 200 metres from the scene of the blast was destroyed by a flying gas cylinder.
The cause of the initial blast is unknown.
There were 167 people being treated at the Mama Lucy Hospital in Nairobi – with 142 of them being adults and 25 children, the Standard newspaper in Kenya has reported.
The paper reports that many of them had inhalation injuries.
Kenya Red Cross said on X earlier that crews had been “tirelessly battling the flames” and it had taken 29 people to the Kenyatta National Hospital.
Caroline Karanja, who lives near the site, said she had to run away following the explosions after police cordoned off the entire area.
“Police were turning away everyone and so it was difficult to access my house and I had to seek a place to sleep until this morning,” she said.
Ms Karanja said the smell and smoke were still choking, and she would have to stay away for a while because she had young children.
Alfred Juma, who also lives in the area, said his home was destroyed in the blast.
Mr Juma said he began waking up his neighbours and encouraging them to leave the area after he heard a loud noise from a gas cylinder in a warehouse next to his house.
He said he grabbed two children and they hid in a sewage ditch until the explosions ended.
Mr Juma also said he warned a black car not to drive through the area, but the driver insisted and his vehicle stalled because of the fumes.
“He attempted to start the car three times and that’s when there was an explosion and the fire spread into the (warehouse) setting off other explosions.”
The proximity of the industrial company to residences raised questions about the enforcement of city plans.
Officials at the county government have previously been accused of taking bribes to overlook building codes and regulations.