Update: Group of Episcopalians safe in Nairobi after airport fire

Members of the public stand in front of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, as it goes up in flames, in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Aug. 7. A fire engulfed Kenya's main airport, choking a vital travel and trade gateway to east Africa, witnesses and officials said. The cause of the fire was not yet known. Photo: Reuters

Members of the public stand in front of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, as it goes up in flames, in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, Aug. 7. A fire engulfed Kenya’s main airport, choking a vital travel and trade gateway to east Africa, witnesses and officials said. The cause of the fire was not yet known. Photo: Reuters

Editors note: Story updated 12:15 p.m. EDT Aug. 9 with travelers’ location, other details

[Episcopal News Service] Six Episcopalians who had been in Kenya since late July and were stuck in that country Aug. 7 after their flight to the U.S. was disrupted by a massive fire at the Nairobi airport report that they have taken a bus and a plane to Ethiopia.

Rebecca Wilson posted on her Facebook page about 6:15 a.m. EDT on Aug. 9 a summary of the route she, her son Jacob Bilich, Jim Naughton, the Rev. Lowell Grisham, the Rev. Jon M. Richardson and Ellie Rolfes Rencher took out of Kenya.

“We took an eight hour bus ride from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro, including two hours waiting to get across the Tanzanian border, and then spent six hours overnight in the Kilimanjaro open-air airport with mosquitoes and not enough food or water,” Wilson wrote. “Then, at 4:30 am, we flew from Kilimanjaro to Mombasa to Addis Ababa. Then we stood in a crowd for two hours and — advocated, shall we say? — for boarding passes for tonight’s flight to Dulles [International Airport in Washington, D.C.] and voucher for a hotel day room and meals.”

“Believe it or not, our story is better than some we heard from folks who stayed in Nairobi to wait it out,” she added. “Here’s hoping we land in DC Saturday morning with no more stories to tell!”

On Aug. 7, Wilson reported on Facebook that the group was “safe and sound in a lovely Nairobi guest house” after learning of the fire on their way to the airport.

“We are working on rebooking flights now and are keeping our phones open and charged for calls concerning that process,” she wrote at the time.

Prayers were said for the group Aug. 7 during the noon day Eucharist at the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

The six were part of a larger group of 16 Episcopalians who met July 29-Aug. 1 at the Jumuia Conference Centre in Limuru, Kenya, with Anglicans from nine African countries and ecumenical participants to explore issues of sexuality in dialogue with scripture. The Chicago Consultation and the Ujamaa Centre of the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, convened the conference with the Consultation.

The meeting continued conversations and relationships begun two years earlier at a similar consultation in Durban, South Africa, according to the Consultation.

Wilson told the New York Times that the group had spent a few days after the gathering in a village near the Masai Mara Game Reserve. They learned of the fire on their way to the airport, she said.

Wilson and her son live in Akron, Ohio; Naughton lives in Washington, D.C., They are partners in Canticle Communications. Rolfes Rencher, whose home is in Charlotte, North Carolina, is an associate of the firm.

Grisham is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Richardson is the rector of the Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd in Philadelphia.

Kenya authorities temporarily closed Jomo Kenyatta International Airport after the fire, which took firefighters four hours to extinguish. Later in the day, some domestic and cargo flights were allowed to operate, the New York Times reported. The airport is said to be East Africa’s busiest.

No one was killed in the blaze, the Times said.

Media reports noted that Aug. 7 was the anniversary of the 1998 coordinated bombings of American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, attacks that killed more than 200 people. However, Reuters quoted, Boniface Mwaniki, head of the Nairobi anti-terror police unit, as saying there was no connection with terrorism.

 

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