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Kenya's president blames corruption and incompetence for huge fireball that hurt hundreds in Nairobi

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya’s president says corruption and officials’ incompetence allowed a liquid petroleum plant to operate in one of Nairobi’s most crowded residential neighborhoods, where its explosion and fire killed three people and injured more than 280 others.

President William Ruto said the officials who gave licenses to the plant must be dismissed and prosecuted. Police are also looking for the site's owners.

At least 24 people were critically injured when the huge fireball erupted from the gas depot late Thursday and spread rapidly in Kenya's capital, burning homes and warehouses. Some gas cylinders were thrown hundreds of meters (yards), sparking separate fires.

Although at the time of the fire the site was operating illegally, Ruto said some licenses had been issued for the gas plant to operate in a residential area.

“It was very clear that it was the wrong thing to do but because of incompetence, corruption, they issued licenses," Ruto told a gathering in the western Kenya town of Lugari.

"Today we have injuries, we have Kenyans who have died. Those fellows who are involved in this, the ministry must immediately take action on them and they must be dismissed and prosecuted for the crimes they have committed,” he said.

The National Environment Management Authority board said in a statement it has suspended four officials, including the director of environmental compliance. The chairman of the board, Emilio Mugo, asked police to investigate the four.

Nairobi police boss Adamson Bungei said they are also looking for the owners of the yard. “We are pursuing them for questioning," he said.

The depot in Nairobi's Embakasi neighborhood had twice been demolished, and the owner had been found guilty of operating an illegal gas refilling business in May but continued to do business, officials said Friday. That raised suspicions — in a country where corruption is endemic — that bribes were paid to ignore the operation.

Kenya is considered among the world’s most corrupt countries, ranked 126th out of 180 nations by Transparency International’s corruption perception index of 2023.

The Petroleum Institute of East Africa has said a magistrates’ court sentenced the owner of the illegal depot to a year in prison or a fine of $3,076. That was despite a precedent set by Kenya’s High Court in which those found guilty of operating an illegal gas facility should be sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison or a fine of at least $61,500.

Despite the law providing for mandatory forfeiture, the magistrate also released all motor vehicles, including two liquid petroleum gas tankers, together with confiscated LPG that had a net weight of 4,660 kilograms (more than 10,000 pounds), the PIEA said.

On Saturday, government and relief agencies provided support for people who had lost their homes including food, blankets, sleeping bags and stoves as the county government gave them temporary shelters in town halls.

At least 72 business were affected by the inferno, government spokesman Isaac Mwaura said.