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Poverty a factor in pipeline explosion

Kenya | Social Justice

NAIROBI - The odor of petrol and smoke filled the air over rusty tin houses mangled by bulldozers after the mid-morning tragedy.  

The scene could be described as one straight from hell on this black day (12 September) in the Sinai slum just outside of Nairobi, where an underground fuel pipeline owned by the Kenya Pipeline Company, exploded killing dozens.  87 are known dead from the fireball, and 112 are hospitalized in critical condition.  An unknown number of people remain to be found.

The sky was a dull grey, perhaps mourning in solidarity with the roughly 100,000 desperately poor men, women and children who dwell in this scorched and devastated zone of the city. The day's light rainshowers eased an otherwise bad situation that would have been worse from the fuel fire. 

In one trench near Nairobi River, charred bodies of victims lay in a heap, burnt beyond recognition, capturing the magnitude of the tragedy. These victims were reportedly trying to escape from the fire. 

Mothers cringed as if in labor yet again, for the unspeakable loss of their children who were attending school at the Jamaica Academy located in the slum.  Residents referred to it as an academy, but it was simply a set of tin rooms with benches that gave reprieve for learning experiences for children of Sinai slum. 

Vivian Achieng left her grandmother’s house that morning for school, oblivious to what lay ahead.  According to Jennifer Otieno, Vivian's 50-year-old grandma, she had prepared the little Vivian for school before going to sell food in the neighborhood. 

Speaking to us six hours after the tragedy, Jennifer, like hundreds of other residents, was devastated. 

The blame game has already begun between the government and the poverty stricken slum dwellers.  Some say the Sinai residents were illegally siphoning fuel from pipelines running 6 feet beneath their homes, as they had been doing for years.  The government even made efforts to de-populate the Sinai slum in 2009, but with no better options available, the residents stayed put. 

The Kenya Pipeline Company admits a section of the 33-year-old pipe system where the blast erupted had depressurized causing the spillage.  Though no fault has been assigned, Kenya Pipeline has promised to compensate victims. 

Other than a few politicians calling for investigations, no leaders have come forward to comment on the tragedy.                 

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