Oil Pipeline Explosion and Fire Ignites Slum, More Than 100 Feared Dead

Oil pipeline blast turns Nairobi slum into an inferno.

NAIROBI, Kenya Sept. 12, 2011 -- More than 100 people are feared burned to death in a massive fire that engulfed a crowded slum in the Kenyan capital city of Nairobi.

Police say at least 80 people have been confirmed dead, but officials expect the toll to rise. An official from Kenyatta National Hospital tells ABC News that 112 people have been admitted so far with third degree burns, many of them children. The hospital has issued an appeal for for blankets and blood donations to help the injured.

The fire broke out in the Mukuru Sinai slum, located in Nairobi's industrial zone after an oil pipeline exploded.

Witnesses say the explosion happened after some of the dwellers rushed to siphon off the spilling fuel from a burst pipeline, which runs through the area. Plumes of black smoke could be seen for miles as over-crowded shacks went up in flames. Police say the exact cause of the explosion remains unclear.

Two years ago, Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper published a report warning of the possibility of a fatal fire in Sinai. The article said that even though Kenyan law requires at least 55 feet of each side of any pipeline to be clear, squatters were living on top of it.

Patrick Nyoike, an official from the ministry of Energy told The Nation at the time that it was working with the Kenya Pipeline Company to find funds to relocate people living in the immediate area.

Nyoike admitted then, however, that the risk remained grave. "There is always a possibility that a leak can happen," he told the paper.

Residents were not relocated and the area remained over- populated before today's inferno. Witnesses said that some of the victims were caught in their houses located so close to the pipeline they had no chance to escape.

The oil also flowed into a river running through the slum. Police said there are still bodies flowing in the murky waters, but can't be retrieved until the river is clear of the fuel.

High fuel prices remain a burden to Kenya's poor, who need petrol for basic needs like cooking. A chance at collecting free fuel often proves irresistible, even with the knowledge of the risk. Two years ago, Kenya suffered one of its most fatal fire disasters after an overturned oil tanker exploded, killing at least 120 people trying to scoop up free fuel.