Nearly 100 killed in Sierra Leone fuel tanker explosion thumbnail

Nearly 100 killed in Sierra Leone fuel tanker explosion

A massive fireball sparked by a fuel tanker explosion killed 98 people in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, the West African country’s disaster management agency said on Saturday.

The blast happened when a fuel
tanker collided with another truck at a petrol station on Friday night,
according to witnesses.

The flames then spread, burning
people in cars and on roads nearby.

The majority of the victims were
street vendors and motorcyclists, many of whom were caught in the blaze while
trying to retrieve fuel leaking from the tanker before it ignited, according to
volunteer worker Jusu Jacka Yorma who was at the scene.

The National Disaster Management
Agency said in a statement that 98 deaths had been recorded so far and “92
survivors are currently admitted to various hospitals in Freetown”.

Vice-President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh
had earlier given a death toll of 98 after arriving at the scene, adding that
all those injured would receive free treatment.

A nurse at a hospital where victims
were sent told AFP that many women, men and children had sustained
“serious injuries”.

Rescue operations continued under
police supervision on Saturday.

‘Horrendous loss’

Hundreds of people gathered at the
scene of the tragedy, many searching for missing relatives under the eye of
security forces, an AFP correspondent said.

Contrary to some initial reports, a
fuel depot near the accident did not explode, the correspondent added.

Video footage showed a burnt-out
tanker and a truck, and the surrounding area littered with husks of vehicles,
some still smouldering.

“Deeply disturbed by the tragic
fires and the horrendous loss of life,” President Julius Maada Bio wrote
on Twitter.

“My profound sympathies with
families who have lost loved ones and those who have been maimed as a result.
My government will do everything to support affected families.”

The United Nations office in Sierra
Leone expressed its “deepest condolences” to the victims.

“The UN family closely monitors
the situation and stands ready” to help with the response to the
fire,” it said in a statement. 

‘Harrowing’ footage

Freetown mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr
said she was “deeply saddened” by the explosion.

“The video and photo footage
making rounds on social media are harrowing,” she wrote on Facebook.

“The extent of damage to
property is unknown,” she said, adding she was unable to visit the scene
because she was travelling abroad.

Despite being rich in diamonds
Sierra Leone remains one of the world’s poorest countries, its economy
devastated during a 1991-2002 civil war that left 120,000 dead.

Accidents involving petrol tankers
have happened before in the former British colony of 7.5 million. 

In other parts of Africa, similar
incidents have also left many dead as people gather to collect leaking fuel.

In 2009, more than 100 people were
killed when a petrol tanker overturned northwest of Kenyan capital Nairobi and
an explosion burnt those gathering to try and grab some of the fuel. 

At least 100 people were killed when
a tanker exploded in Tanzania in 2019, while in 2015 more than 200 perished in
a similar accident in South Sudan.

In July this year, 13 people were
killed and others seriously burnt when a “huge fireball” engulfed a
crowd in Kenya as they siphoned fuel from an overturned petrol truck that
ignited without warning.

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