A huge gas blast in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, has killed at least three people and injured nearly 300.

A lorry carrying gas cylinders exploded in Embakasi district at about 23:30 (20:30 GMT) on Thursday, “igniting a huge ball of fire”, an official said.

Housing, businesses and cars were damaged, with video showing a huge blaze raging close to blocks of flats.

An investigation has started and Kenya’s deputy president has said those responsible will be held accountable.

A child was among those who died, according to Embakasi police chief Wesley Kimeto, who added that the death toll could rise.

Some 271 people were taken to hospital, according to the authorities, including at least 25 children.

Nairobi county Governor Sakaja Johnson said many of these people had been treated and sent home, but at least 39 have been sent to other facilities – some with critical injuries.

A further 27 people were treated on site for non-life-threatening injuries.

The government initially said the blast happened at a gas plant where workers were refilling gas cylinders, but the authorities later clarified that a truck had exploded in a parking yard.

According to government spokesperson Isaac Mwaura, a fireball from the blast “spread widely”. A flying gas cylinder hit a clothing and textiles warehouse, burning it down.

“The inferno further damaged several vehicles and commercial properties, including many small and medium sized businesses,” he said in a statement.

“Sadly, residential houses in the neighbourhood also caught fire, with a good number of residents still inside, as it was late at night.”

The fire has been contained and a search and rescue operation has been launched to find out if people are missing or have simply taken shelter elsewhere.

“There is still a search going on of whether there are bodies which have been burnt in various houses,” said Embakasi East MP Babu Owino.

The Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) said in a statement that the gas plant was illegal and that it had rejected three applications for construction permits to build a storage and filling facility at the site.

Epra said the designs did not meet its safety standards and there was a high population around the proposed site.

It is not clear how the facility was still able to operate.

Mr Mwaura, who visited the site, said the owners of the company involved must “compensate the victims” and take “full responsibility” for the explosion.

“It is immoral to risk the lives of fellow Kenyans for profit,” he added.

“Sometimes we have weak enforcement institutions and of course the element of corruption, which has now led to the death of three of us Kenyans.”

Kenyan Vice-President Rigathi Gachagua promised a tough government response.

“As we call for caution and adherence to the rule of law, those culpable in this unacceptable occurrence will be held accountable,” he said.

Source: BBC