By JASON STRAZIUSO and TOM ODULA
Armed policemen cordon off the area as fire rages at the international arrivals unit of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. A massive fire engulfed the arrivals hall at Kenya’s main international airport early Wednesday, forcing East Africa’s largest airport to close and the rerouting of all inbound flights. Dark black smoke that billowed skyward was visible across much of Nairobi as emergency teams battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — International flights began landing and taking off from Nairobi’s fire-damaged airport Thursday, and officials said they expected to return to full operations by day’s end.
Kenyan officials, assisted by members of the FBI, began investigating the cause of the fire.
The Kenya Airports Authority said it was working to ensure a return to normal service a day after a fire destroyed the arrivals hall at Nairobi’s main international airport. It turned into an inferno in part because of a slow and inadequate response from fire fighters.
“From what you can see the damage is pretty extensive. It has extended until the immigration area. The electrical system is all down. Mechanical systems are all down. You can see the displays are all down, so it’s huge,” said Ali Ayoob, an airport engineer.
Michael Kamau, the cabinet secretary for transport and infrastructure, said Kenyan officials were receiving assistance from international agencies “because we intend to carry out a full investigation on what happened yesterday.” A second official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t permitted to speak publicly, confirmed that members of the FBI were assisting.
Kamau said the design of the airport — constructed in the mid 1970s — made it challenging for firefighters to access certain areas with water hoses. Kamau said he was “satisfied” by the response of firefighters from private companies but did not mention the airport firefighters, who responded slowly and whose equipment wasn’t fully functioning.
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is East Africa’s largest aviation hub, and the fire disrupted air travel across the continent as the airport cancelled all international flights Wednesday. Many inbound flights were diverted to Tanzania and the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa.
The Interior Ministry said that local flights are being operated from the airport’s cargo terminal.
Firefighters were desperately short of equipment Wednesday. The airport has fire trucks but some were not filled with water and personnel couldn’t be found to drive others. At one point while battling the blaze men in government uniforms lined up to pass buckets of water to fight the fire.
No serious injuries were reported.
President Barack Obama called Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to offer U.S. support. The fire broke out on the 15th anniversary of U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
Officials have not yet released the cause of the fire. Terrorism does not appear likely.
Nairobi is the capital of East Africa’s largest economy, but public-sector services such as police and fire departments are hobbled by small budgets, corrupt money managers and outdated equipment or an absence of equipment.