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March 24, 2018

Night of horror: How 40 were burnt to death at Karai

Relatives and civilians look at the wreckages of cars burnt after a fireball from an tanker engulfed several vehicles and killed several people, near Naivasha, December 11, 2016. Photo/REUTERS
Relatives and civilians look at the wreckages of cars burnt after a fireball from an tanker engulfed several vehicles and killed several people, near Naivasha, December 11, 2016. Photo/REUTERS

The aftermath on the Nairobi-Naivasha road looked like a garage bombed by Air Force jets whose pilots were hell-bent on wiping out the enemy.

The shells of cars burnt to metallic husks, a sooty stretch of tarmac and large tracts of burnt grass revealed the ferocity of the inferno that claimed 40 lives and with it the hopes and dreams of many more.

It was a gruesome scene the likes of which Kenyans have only seen on news footage from Middle East wars such as Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and the ongoing Syrian civil war.

What on a normal day or evening would be an enjoyable drive down the scenic Rift Valley turned into a night of horror, with an accident that set off a giant fireball and billowing black smoke that could be seen kilometres away from the scene.

But this was no scene of war or the aftermath of a terror attack.

People look at the wreckage of cars burnt after a fireball from an tanker engulfed several vehicles and killed several people. Photo/REUTERS

A tanker ferrying a highly inflammable substance literally turned into a bomb on wheels, ramming into everything in its path after the driver appeared to lose control.

By the time lorry came to a halt, 39 people had been incinerated inside their cars on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway near Naivasha, including 11 General Service Unit Recce Squad officers, the elite corps from which the Presidential bodyguard is drawn.

The tanker blew up on impact at Kinungi, Naivasha, setting off the raging fireball that engulfed 13 cars and made the road impassable for nearly three hours.

Scores were left nursing injuries, some serious enough to warrant transfers to the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi after the Saturday 9.30pm crash.

The tanker, carrying petroleum products from Mombasa to Kampala, rammed into a series of oncoming vehicles and burst into flames.

Scores of motorists heading to Nairobi were caught up in the Saturday evening tragedy, a majority being burnt beyond recognition.

Among those killed are the 11 GSU officers whose vehicle was hit by the hurtling lorry before it burst into flames.

The wreckage of a police truck involved in an accident after a fireball from a tanker engulfed several vehicles and killed several people. Photo/REUTERS

Details indicate the GSU officers were from the Presidential Guard based at State House, travelling from Bomet county, where President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto had toured earlier in the day.

The President cancelled a scheduled appointment in Narok county following the tragedy.

There was a moment of panic on Saturday night as security personnel moved in to contain the situation and recover all the guns, bullets and other security related equipment the dead officers had on them.

It emerged that a UK-based Kenyan lost two daughters in the infernal.

His younger brother, who was driving the car, also perished. His wife and a third daughter are fighting for their lives at a city hospital.

The family was travelling from Naivasha to Nairobi, ready to return to the UK. Firefighters from Naivasha sub- county frantically tried to put out the blaze.

Mangled wreckage, some still smouldering and bodies inside, was strewn on the highway as helpless relatives and the public tried to come to terms with the tragedy. Emotions ran high as those affected, including senior government officers, arrived at a scene of bedlam on the road.

Most bodies were burnt beyond recognition, forcing the authorities and relatives to embark on a the painful and long process of identification at the height of a nationwide doctors’ strike in public hospitals.

Weeping uncontrollably, one man, identified only as Simon, painfully narrated how he lost his mother, wife and brother.

“We were on our way to Nairobi from Subukia when a lorry hit us head-on before bursting into flames and I was thrown out and watched as they [family members] were burnt to death,” he said.

A man reacts as he looks at the wreckages of cars burnt after a fireball from an tanker engulfed several vehicles and killed several people. Photo/REUTERS

By midday yesterday, 30 bodies had been transferred from the Naivasha Sub-County Hospital Mortuary to Chiromo Mortuary off Waiyaki Way, Westlands, Nairobi. The tiny Naivasha facility could not cope with the magnitude of the tragedy.

At Chiromo, it will take experts using modern technology to identify the dead.

The bodies of the GSU officers who perished were transferred to a private mortuary by fellow officers. At the Naivasha Referral Hospital mortuary, grieving relatives moved in to identify the bodies, with the Kenya Red Cross providing counseling.

According to the superintendent in charge of the hospital, Dr Joseph Mburu, some of the bodies could only be identified through DNA tests that would be conducted in Nairobi.

“The government has decided to transfer all the bodies to the Chiromo mortuary,” Mburu said.

Before the accident, there had been concerns over recently erected speed bumps at the scene that may raise questions about some decisions of the Kenya National Highways Authority.

Residents who spoke to the Star claimed accidents at the scene had become more frequent since the bumps were erected last year and there are no road signs to warn motorists of bumps ahead.

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