Huge fire closes Nairobi international airport

A massive fire shut down Nairobi's international airport on Wednesday with flights diverted to regional cities as firefighters battled to put out the blaze in east Africa's biggest transport hub.

Dramatic plumes of black smoke billowed out of the main arrivals terminal, but by 9.00 am (0600GMT), some four hours after the blaze broke out, firefighters had succeeded in stemming the raging flames.

"There is a serious fire at JKIA (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport), but we are doing everything possible to avert a crisis," said senior interior ministry official Mutea Iringo.

The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Tens of thousands of passengers are expected to be affected by the closure of the airport, while regional airports have limited capacity and will likely struggle to handle all the travellers unable to land in Nairobi.

The interior ministry was forced to issue public appeals for Nairobi's notoriously congested traffic to give way to trucks ferrying water to the airport after firefighters tackling the blaze ran "dangerously low on water".

"Apart from emergency landings, all flights into and out of JKIA have been cancelled ... (the) airport has been shut down," added Iringo.

The Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre, in an update 0600 GMT, said the airport "remains closed indefinitely", but that the fire had been "contained".

The blaze comes two days after aircraft were delayed for several hours after the failure of a fuel hydrant needed for refuelling the planes.

It also comes 15 years to the day of attacks on the US embassy in Nairobi and in Dar es Salaam in neighbouring Tanzania, killing more than 224 people.

The United States has ordered two dozen of its embassies closed in the Middle East and some African countries because of fears of an Al-Qaeda attack, but not Kenya.

There was no suggestion the Nairobi fire was linked to any attack.

An AFP photographer at the airport reported clouds of black smoke spewing out of the main arrivals and departures terminal, with dozens of police and fire trucks at the scene.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose father Jomo Kenyatta -- Kenya's first president -- the airport is named after, visited the still burning building along with his top security chiefs to assess the damage caused by the "huge inferno", the interior ministry added.

Kenya's Airport Authority said that no casualties have been reported.

Iringo said the fire was "massive", adding that the arrivals and immigration sections were "totally damaged".

Flights were being diverted to other airports, including the port city of Mombasa, the interior ministry added.

The airport -- which hosts both international and domestic flights -- serves as a regional hub for east Africa, with many long-distance international flights landing there to connect to countries across the region.

Regional aviation sources said some seven million passengers use JKIA annually. The airport offers direct connections to Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and other African cities.

August is one of Kenya's busiest months for tourism, a key industry for the country, as foreign travellers fly in to see its wildlife and white sand beaches on its Indian Ocean coast.

All roads around the airport had been closed except to emergency traffic.

"This is a major crisis," said senior transport ministry official Michael Kamau.