A massive fire engulfed the arrivals hall at Kenya’s main international airport early on Wednesday, forcing East Africa’s largest airport to close and the rerouting of all inbound flights.

Dark black smoke that billowed skyward was visible across much of Nairobi as emergency teams battled the blaze. Stranded passengers stood on sidewalks outside the airport with their luggage in hand.

The Kenya Airports Authority said the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has been closed until further notice so that emergency teams can battle the fire.

Associated Press reporters at the scene said the fire had gutted the international arrivals hall, where passengers pass through immigration and retrieve their luggage.

As in many countries in East Africa, public sector services like police and fire units are hobbled by small budgets and outdated or no equipment. A British passenger, Martyn Collbeck, said he was surprised that the airport wasn’t shut down sooner so that emergency vehicles could respond.

“When I arrived there were one or two fire engines parked outside the international arrivals. It spread very fast,” said Mr. Collbeck, who had been scheduled to fly back to London on an early morning KLM flight. “There were a couple of explosions which I think were a couple of gas canisters.”

But, he added- “I would have expected more fire engines to respond faster.”

The Nairobi airport is the busiest in East Africa, and its closure is likely to affect flights throughout the region.

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