Nakumatt Supermarket Fire

The 2009 Nakumatt supermarket fire occurred when a supermarket in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, caught fire on 28 January 2009.

Twenty-nine remains have thus far been located in the rubble of the destroyed Nakumatt supermarket, with police investigating a tip that security guards locked exit doors in an effort to prevent looting. However the locking of the doors on the ground floor had no effect on the victims, as they were all found on the floor above. The fire allegedly started near the only staircase accessible to the public, trapping the victims in the shop. One other man died after leaping from the building to escape the flames. Forty-seven people are still missing. The bodies of the dead are "charred beyond recognition".

Official reports say one person died in hospital from injuries brought on by poisonous fumes and injuries sustained in the inferno but another 39 were unaccounted for and were officially reported as "missing". The emergency services have been criticised for what the Kenyan media view as an inadequate response to the blaze. Following the blaze, the Daily Nation reported that Nairobi's three million inhabitants were served only by one fire station situated close to a traffic-choked business district. Although it happened on 28 January, it was not widely reported across the world until two days later when the full scale of the fire was recognised.

Deaths. Abandoned cars. Desperate calls. Missing relatives. Claims of blocked exits… That is the sad tale of the tragedy that could have claimed as many as 40 lives in downtown Nairobi on Wednesday.

Officially, one person died in hospital from poisonous fumes and injuries sustained in the Nakumatt supermarket inferno.

But another 39 were unaccounted for and were officially reported as "missing".

They included five employees of the supermarket chain, and 34 shoppers who included women and children. And for the most part of yesterday, firefighters were still unable to access the building that was still billowing smoke.

Survivors, relatives of missing ones and rescuers told of harrowing tales, from desperate calls that ended abruptly, to claims of blocked exits. Others claimed that the supermarket’s massive doors were initially slammed shut to keep away looters.

"The figure has gone up to 21," said a government spokesperson, referring to the number of charred bodies that have been pulled out of the building by rescuers.

Another man died on Wednesday afternoon when he leaped from an upper floor of the burning Nakumatt shop - the east African nation's leading supermarket chain.

Rescuers have only now been able to search the gutted, still-smouldering building property due to fears the structure would collapse in the hours after the blaze.

A spokeswoman for the Nakumatt supermarket chain said at least five of the 103 members of staff had not been accounted for.