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What Caused Floors To Collapse During Mall Siege In Kenya?


There are no more survivors. That's what anxious families hoping to find their loved ones in Nairobi, Kenya have been told. Their ordeal began Saturday when Islamist militants stormed an upscale mall. At least 67 people, including five security officers, were killed. But the Kenyan Red Cross says scores of people are still missing. Some may have been crushed when three floors of the mall collapsed near the end of the four-day siege. NPR's Gregory Warner reports.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Christopher Kennedy Chewa was 26, expecting his second child. He just secured a new job as a driver for a tour company. In one of his first trips to the upscale Westgate Mall, he dropped a tourist to shop inside, then sat with the car in the basement garage. The mall was stormed by 10 to 15 gunmen with machine guns and grenades. Al-Shabab militants later claimed the attack was retribution for the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia. More than a thousand people fled the mall or were rescued. About 200 people were injured. And though there was no word from Christopher, his aunt Mary Muthoni held out hope.

MARY MUTHONI: And for a couple of days, we had been looking for him at the hospitals and various places, but, in fact, we had hope that we are going to see him hiding somewhere, maybe at the basement.

WARNER: For days, there were reports that people were still hiding inside. And then, on the third day, people outside the mall heard several loud explosions. Black smoke billowed from the back of the building. The next day, authorities said the siege was over. There were no survivors, and that three floors of the building had collapsed.

Mary Muthoni found her nephew's body in the city morgue - a bullet hole through the eye. Kenyans still have questions about how the floors collapsed. Kenyan authorities said it was a fire started by militants. Other officials said privately that a soldier fired an RPG inside the mall to distract militant snipers. It destroyed a support column.

Kenyan authorities aren't allowing much information on what ultimately happened to those whose bodies may be found in the mall. The Kenyan interior minister tweeted that the only corpses under the rubble of those of terrorists. But a senior Red Cross official said that many more bodies are inside, some killed by terrorists, some accidentally shot by police officers and some crushed when the mall floors collapsed. He said the final death toll could climb over 100. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said that Kenyan intelligence suggested that a British woman may have been among the attackers. Speculation has fallen on Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of a British suicide bomber who fled to Kenya with her children. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner
Gregory Warner is the host and creator of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast that tells stories from far off places that hit close to home. Whether interviewing Ukrainians about the use of jokes on war's front lines, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry" or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers. Rough Translation has received multiple awards from the Overseas Press Club and was named one of the New York Times' top ten podcasts of 2021.