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Kenyan minister apologises after main airport terminal plunges into darkness

FILE PHOTO: Reflection shows Kenya Airways planes parked at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport near Nairobi

By Duncan Miriri

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya's transport minister apologised on Saturday after a widespread electricity blackout the previous night left passengers at the main airport in Nairobi grappling in darkness.

Power went off in many parts of the country at 9.45 p.m. (1845 GMT) on Friday, the electricity distribution company Kenya Power said in a statement, attributing the loss to "a system disturbance".

Online footage from local broadcaster NTV showed travellers huddling around the main terminal at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in darkness, while some used mobile phone torches to light their way.

The airport operator Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) said that one of its stand-by generators, which serves the terminal, did not kick in after the grid went off.

Generators serving the flight control tower and the airport runway were functional at all times, Transport Minister Kipchumba Murkomen said in a televised news conference, adding that no passengers or aeroplanes were put in danger by the outage.

"I wish to issue an unreserved apology to all travellers and airport users who were affected in one way or another by the power disruption," Murkomen said.

National airline Kenya Airways did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Murkomen said KAA's board had terminated the contract of Managing Director Alex Gitari, appointing Henry Ogoye as acting head.

It also transferred JKIA's manager, Abel Gogo, to manage a different airport, replacing him with Selina Gor.

KAA will move to swiftly put into service two generators that were already procured, Murkomen said, to ensure the incident does not recur.

Kenya Power said it had restored supply to the airport five hours after the incident began. Many homes and businesses were still without power more than 15 hours after the blackout started.

While widespread power outages do happen in Kenya, it is rare for the blackouts to affect operations at the airport, with no reports of such incidents in recent memory.

(This story has been refiled to fix a typo in paragraph 5)

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)