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City’s worst disasters that cost life and limb

1982 coup attempt

In the early hours of August, 1, 1982, Kenyans woke up to the frightening news that a band of soldiers mainly drawn from the Kenya Air Force (KAF) had overthrown the government of then President Daniel Moi.

The coup was led by a junior KAF officer, Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka Rabala and his accomplices including Sergeant Joseph Ogidi, corporals Charles Oriwa, Walter Ojode, Bramwel Injene Njereman, and Senior Private Pancras Oteyo Okumu.

The plotters seized the then Voice of Kenya (VoK) and forced popular broadcaster Leonard Mambo Mbotela to announce that President Moi had been overthrown and replaced by the National Redemption Council headed by Senior Private Ochuka.

The plotters had also planned to seize the Kenyatta International Airport’s control tower, Wilson Airport, the General Post Office, and the Central Bank of Kenya “to protect people’s money,” besides blowing up State House Nairobi, JKIA, and President Moi’s home in Kabarak.

In the ensuing chaos, Nairobi witnessed scenes of widespread violence and massive looting before the plotters were finally overrun by loyal forces mainly drawn from the Kenya Army.

More than 100 soldiers and 200 civilians died on that and subsequent days, including two Germans, an Englishwoman, a Japanese man and his child.

Two Asian women committed suicide after being raped, while property estimated at over Sh500 million was destroyed.

Outwitted, Ochuka and Oteyo Okumu commandeered a military plane and fled to exile in Tanzania from where they were repatriated back to the country to face justice. They were found guilty and hanged.

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August 7, 1998 bomb blast

On August 7, between 10.30am and 10.40am suicide bombers driving a truck laden with explosives pulled up at the then US embassy at the junction of Haile Selassie Avenue and Moi Avenue and detonated a bomb.

The plan had been to drive the truck into the basement of the US embassy for maximum impact but this never happened as the driver, later identified as Mohamed Rashid Daoud Al-Owhali inadvertently forgot the pistol he was to use to clear the way of the truck. Confused, he hurled a grenade at the embassy guards and fled.

The bomb killed 212 people while an estimated 4,000 others were injured among them 11 Americans.

The explosion damaged the embassy building and flattened the neighbouring Ufundi Building, where most victims were killed, mainly students and staff of a secretarial college housed there.

The heat from the blast was channelled between the buildings towards Haile Selassie Avenue where a packed commuter bus was burned.

A large number of eye injuries occurred because people in buildings nearby who had heard the explosion of the hand grenade and the shooting went to their office windows to look when the main blast occurred and shattered the windows.