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Over 100 dead in Nakuru oil tanker accident

By | February 1st 2009 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

By Steve Mkawale

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A total of 110 people are confirmed dead after a fuel tanker burst into flames two hours after it overturned at Sachangwan trading centre along the Nakuru-Eldoret Highway on Saturday evening.

Police, accompanied by Rift Valley PC, Hassan Noor Hassan and the Kenya Red Cross officials had by Sunday morning counted 91 charred bodies at the scene.

Rift Valley PC Noor Hassan Noor at the scene of death. He led the rescue operation.

Another 20 people were said to have succumbed to injuries at the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital and other health facilities where volunteers rushed them for treatment.

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The Standard reporters witnessed the counting of the charred bodies at the scene of the accident on Saturday night after fire fighters from Nakuru Municipal Council put off the inferno.

Local residents said the truck that was on its way to Eldoret from Nakuru, overturned shortly after 6pm spilling its content.

As the locals scampered to siphon petrol, the vehicle burst into flames at around 7pm burning many people.

Some of those who were carrying jerrican full of siphoned petrol died in a forest or along the roadside as they attempted to flee from the fire.

"There are more bodies in the forest. Those were people who tried to flee as they carried siphoned petrol that exploded in their hands when fire broke out," said a traffic police officer who was among the first people to arrive at the scene.

Firemen from the Nakuru Municipal Council douse the flames.

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[PHOTOS: LUCAS THUO/STANDARD].

"Their clothes were soaked in petrol and they could not escape when fire broke out," he said.

Two vehicles whose owners had stopped at the accident scene to witness the incident were burnt to death. In one of the vehicles was the body of a man in handcuffs.

A group of children from a local school were said to been among the dead. Their driver had stopped to the scene of accident.

At least 92 people among them ten officers from the nearby GSU camp were admitted at various hospitals in Nakuru, Rongai, and Molo.

"More than 90 people have been taken to various hospitals in Molo, Rongai and Nakuru. We have made arrangements for some of them to be transferred to Nairobi Hospital for specialised treatment," said Hassan.

Police officers take stock of the loss.

The PC said three helicopters were provided to ferry the injured to Nairobi as the Intensive Care Unit after it emerged the provincial hospital had been overwhelmed.

Speaking on the scene, Pulic Health Service minister Beth Mugo said the government had flown in medical provisions from Nairobi to boost services at the General Hospital. She also revealed that a number of the injured victims had been flown to Nairobi for specialised treatment.

Unconfirmed reports said one of the villagers who differed with GSU officers’ started the fire using a matchbox.

"The man was angry at the GSU officers who were stopping people from siphoning the fuel. I overheard him tell the GSU; mutaona kama munanikataza kuchota mafuta (I will show you because you have refused me to help myself to the fuel)," said a motorcycle taxi operator.

Most bodies at the scene were those of women and children who were busy drawing the spilled fuel from a roadside trench where the tanker landed.

Another witness Michael Siele said his brother Peter Malakwen Kibenei was feared to have died in the fire.

"We arrived together and since I had nothing to carry the fuel I rushed to Sachangwan trading centre to look for one only to hear a loud explosion," he said.

Siele was among hundreds of relatives who kept vigil at the scene waiting for police to collect the mutilated bodies.

"I cannot reach my brother on the phone and his wife keeps on calling me," he said amid sobs.

Rose Koech, 47, said she last saw her son Robert Cheruiyot as he hanged on a matatu and was carrying a jerrican.

One of the guns retrieved from the fire. Three police officers were killed.

"I knew he was headed to the scene of the accident. I cannot find him. He must be among the dead," said the mother of eight as she stared at the charred bodies next to the smouldering fuel tanker.

Rose moved from one body to another in search of her 23 year-old son.

The scene horrified some Members of Parliament including Charles Keter, Ababu Namwamba, and Luka Kigen who arrived there shortly after 9pm.

Keter and Namwamba were on their way to Nairobi from Kericho where they had attended a homecoming party for Konoin MP, Dr Julius Kones.

Keter condoled with the families and relatives of the deceased and hailed police for the quick response that saw more than 80 people rescued and taken to hospital.

"It is a big loss. Most of those who died are women and children. Kenyans ought to learn to keep away from such scenes," he said.

Residents mourn their friends and kin from a distance.

Namwamba who is Budalang’i MP described the scene as a den of hell saying many lives would have been saved had the police condoned off the area soon after the tanker rolled.

Kenya Red Cross officials have set up a tent where families whose relatives were missing could be counselled and assisted and assisted.

"We have set up a tent and people from surrounding villages can come here and report their missing kin," said an official.

The team stumbled on a teenager in the forest who had suffered facial burns but was in shock.

They rushed the youngster to the provincial hospital where doctors said he was stable but still in shock.

The Rift Valley Provincial Police Officer Joseph Ashimalla said they were doing a head-count of officers in the area to ascertain whether some of them may have perished in the fire.

Five loaded firearms that were partly burnt were recovered from the scene, an indication that some of the officers especially those from a local GSU camp could have died.

"They were among the first people at the scene because their camp is only a few meters away," said Ashimalla.

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