As the nation reeled from yesterday’s supreme court nullification of the presidential results, Kenyans woke to sad news that Moi Girls High School, Nairobi had suffered a tragic fire incident. By midmorning, the school compound teamed with visibly shaken survivors and visibly anxious faces of parents and guardians as they desperately sought their daughters.
According to eye witnesses and first responders, the fire broke around 0200hrs and burnt the dormitory housing form one students. Media reports indicate that 7 students have lost their lives in the unfortunate incident. Independent reports however indicate that the death toll has risen to ten, including two guards who lost their lives while attempting to save students. It is not yet clear how many are injured.
While addressing the media, Education Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiang’i said that the school has been closed pending investigation into the incident and promised punitive action to those found culpable. He called on Kenyans to desist from speculating and let authorities carry out investigations.
President Uhuru Kenyatta consoled victims of the tragedy via his Twitter handle saying, “I was deeply saddened and pained by news of last night’s fire at Moi Girls’ School Nairobi. I mourn with the families who have lost loved ones and I pray that those injured will recover quickly and fully…and I pray that all those touched by this tragedy will find consolation and encouragement in God’s grace.” Raila Odinga also sent his condolences to families of victims and promised to offer assistance to the school and victims. He also asked relevant authorities to speed up investigations to unravel cause of the fire.
Social commentator and activist Ory Okolloh Mwangi, who is also an alumnus of the school, tweeted that the school administration had resisted alumni attempts to set up new dorms that were up to proper school building codes. The school head is said to have been pushing for the construction of a chapel instead.
Disaster preparedness in Kenyan learning institutions is a thorny issue and experts have expressed concern over the same time and again. The Ministry of Education’s safety guidelines for disaster and risk management require every school to post a blueprint map of all buildings within a school. There should be emergency contacts in a list that includes names of teachers, employees and parents. Adequate and serviced fire extinguishers, and fire alarms should be placed strategically throughout the school premises. Fire drills should also be carried out as often as possible to enhance disaster prepared.
Sadly, very few institutions can boast of being reasonably ready to handle a disaster such as that befell Moi Girls yesternight. The number of fire incidences that have occurred in schools in recent years only mean that schools do not follow these guidelines and concerned authorities are not doing enough to enforce them.