Joseph Mwangi hoped and prayed his children had escaped the inferno caused when a leaking gasoline pipeline exploded on Monday, sending flames racing through a Nairobi slum and killing at least 75 people.
Then he saw two small blackened bodies in the wreckage of his home.
"Those were my children," he sobbed, collapsing in anguish amid the charred corrugated iron sheets and twisted metal.
Mwangi had been feeding his cow when the call went out around 9 a.m. — a section of pipe had burst near the river that cuts through the slum and gasoline was pouring out. Men, women and children grabbed pails, jerry cans, anything they could find to collect the flowing fuel.Mwangi had planned to get a bucket and join them — he'd done so before with earlier diesel leaks without any problem, he said, and a bucket of fuel could pay a month's rent. "Everybody knows that fuel is gold," the 34-year-old said.
But before he could join the others, an explosion rocked the area, sending a fireball racing through the Sinai slum in Nairobi's industrial zone. Screaming men and women in flames desperately jumped into the river and a nearby sewage ditch, but fuel had leaked into the rancid water and in many places it caught alight.
Red Cross coordinator Pamela Indiaka said at least 75 bodies had been recovered and the death toll was expected to rise. At least 112 people were taken to hospitals with severe burns.
"I've lost count of the number of bodies," said police official Wilfred Mbithi as he stood at the scene, where burned corpses floated in the waste water for most of the day. Nearby, a young woman in jeans clawed at a smoldering pile, shrieking with grief.
Hours after the blast, charred skeletons lay on the ground as firefighters battled to control the flames and shocked, weeping residents wandered through the wreckage.
Survivors told of hellish scenes as flames leaped through the slum's twisting, filthy alleyways filled with people. Some burning victims fled into nearby homes igniting bed linen or clothing.
Michael Muriuki said that's what happened to his wife and three children when neighbors, their clothing aflame, ran into their shack while he was at work. His wife and two of the children escaped, but his 5-year-old daughter was trapped. Muriuki found her smoldering body when he returned home.