By Patrick Beja? and Willis Oketch
Five men were crushed to death by stacks of falling sacks of rice at a warehouse in Shimanzi, Mombasa, raising new fears about safety of unskilled workers in crowded areas.
Last evening, police, Kenya Red Cross Society and the Kenya Ports Authority’s fire fighters called off the search for survivors after pulling a man from the mound of sacks.
Some of the victims suffocated to death while others sustained internal injuries after getting stuck in the rubble for hours.
They shouted for help but could not be reached even after three hours, allegedly because police kept off volunteers.
But Coast Provincial Police Officer Aggrey Adoli denied the allegations, claiming police were beating back the growing crowd in order to protect them from a possible secondary accident.
“Police are not trying to prevent looting. They are trying to protect the crowd from falling sacks,” said Adoli, as police pulled a survivor from the heap.
Coast deputy Provincial Commissioner Robert Kitur confirmed that five people had been killed in the accident. He added that one person had been rescued and taken to hospital.
Authorities have not determined the cause of the incident but independent sources say the walls of the ill-fated warehouse have been gradually caving in for sometime and were on Monday pulled through by activity from adjacent warehouses.
All those killed were loaders and casual labourers employed by Kenjaro Coffee Godown to unload newly imported rice.
Police and eyewitnesses said the tragedy occurred at about 1pm after workers went in the warehouse to offload bags of rice into waiting trucks.
They were suddenly startled by unusual sounds as a result of the fast downward movement of bags.