A student was killed and 150 more were hurt in a stampede on Sunday at a Kenyan university campus after an electrical blast sparked fears of a new Islamist attack.
Some panicked students threw themselves out of buildings from as high as the fifth floor at the University of Nairobi campus, vice chancellor Peter Mbithi said.
The country is on edge after the April 2 raid by Somalia’s al-Shabab rebels on Garissa University that killed 148 people, most of them students.
It was the deadliest attack on Kenyan soil since the 1998 US Embassy bombing in Nairobi.
Education Minister Jacob Kaimenyi said yesterday’s explosion occurred at around 4am while students were sleeping on the university’s Kikuyu campus about 20 kilometers west of the capital Nairobi.
“A power cable blew up outside the student hostel. The hostel itself was not affected, but the students thought it was an attack,” said Mbithi.
“Some students jumped out,” of buildings and “there was also a stampede,” said Mbithi.
“One student died after jumping from the fifth floor,” he said outside the emergency section of the country’s main public hospital, Kenyatta National.
About 150 were injured, mostly lightly, while 20 remain in hospital for treatment.
“I could see the students jumping and one of them landed on his head,” said third-year student Felix Muriuki. Others said there were three loud blasts, plunging the dormitory into darkness, which heightened the panic among the students.
“We thought it was another al-Shabab attack,” said Eddy Capella, a first-year student.
Kenya Power, the country’s main electricity distributor, said the explosion was caused by overloaded underground cable. Initial witness accounts had said a transformer exploded.
Kikuyu students called on the government to do more to secure all universities. “I’m not feeling 100 percent safe on campus but I will continue with my studies,” Muriuki said.
Students said the blast evoked memories of the April 2 attack on Garissa University, about 200km from the Somali border. Somalia’s al-Qaida-aligned group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for that raid, which also came before dawn.
The tragedy befell Kenya while it was still grieving over the students killed in Garissa, with funerals taking place around the country.
Al-Shabab has killed more than 400 people on Kenyan soil in the last two years, including 67 during a siege at Nairobi’s Westgate mall in 2013.