Image: Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki at a hospital
Presidential Press Service via R
Kenya President Mwai Kibaki, center in dark suit, visits a suvivor of an oil truck fire in Nairobi on Monday.
updated 2/2/2009 4:34:23 PM ET 2009-02-02T21:34:23

Kenya began a week of mourning on Monday for the victims of two massive fires that killed more than 140 people, and the Red Cross began the long process of trying to identify some of the dead with DNA samples.

The government, meanwhile, was criticized for its response to the disasters.

"Let the deaths provide a lesson and jolt us into being a lot more prepared for disasters," the Daily Nation newspaper said Monday in an editorial.

It said the inferno of the exploding gas tanker "once again exposed the level of disaster unpreparedness across the country. Watching top government officials making frantic efforts to get the injured to hospitals ... was a study in logistical inefficiency."

Turmoil in Kenya
The editorial was the latest criticism the government has faced over its response and safety regulations. It comes at a time of turmoil in Kenya, which is suffering through a food crisis and infighting among the power-sharing government, which was formed last year in the wake of postelection violence that killed more than 1,000 people.

Kenya's government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, declined to comment about the criticism.

More than 100 people were killed Saturday after an overturned gasoline tanker exploded as hundreds of people were trying to scoop up free fuel. The government said Monday the death toll was 115, but the figure was likely to rise. Nearly 200 were hurt in the blaze in Molo, 105 miles (170 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Nairobi.

The government sent extra body bags and medical supplies to the area by helicopter, along with more doctors for the overwhelmed hospitals, where some victims were lying on floors.

A cigarette was believed to have sparked the blaze as police struggled to control the crowds of villagers.

Another fire last week, at a supermarket in downtown Nairobi, killed nearly 30 people, although it took days for officials to announce the deaths. Witnesses said it took more than an hour for firefighters to reach the store, even though it was located in the center of town.

Fire hoses, riddled with holes, ran dry as hundreds of bystanders tried to help douse the flames.

Students donate blood
During the week of mourning, flags will fly at half staff, and official functions have been postponed. Hundreds of high school students in Nairobi were offering to give blood as rescue workers reported more deaths from the two fires.

Officials were still investigating the cause of the supermarket blaze. Kenya's Red Cross said Monday that DNA testing of badly burned victims would begin this week, and it called on victims' parents or siblings to provide samples.

The group said the death toll from the supermarket stood at 28, but that dozens were still reported missing.

In the hospitals near Molo, hundreds of injured people overwhelmed medical facilities. Burn victims lined the floors, hooked to drips and moaning in pain.

Authorities expected the death toll to rise and were still searching the scorched woods for corpses.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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