Fuel tanker fire and explosion kills more than 90 outside Sierra Leone's capital
A massive fireball sparked by a fuel tanker explosion killed 98 people in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown on Friday, 5 November 2021, the West African country's disaster management agency said. The blast happened when a fuel tanker collided with another truck at a petrol station in Wellington, a suburb just to the east of Freetown. 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. Rescue operations continued under police supervision on Saturday.
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.
The mortuary at Connaught Hospital reported 92 bodies had been brought in by Saturday morning. About 30 severely burned victims were not expected to survive, one hospital official said. Injured people whose clothes had burned off in the fire that followed the explosion lay naked on stretchers as nurses attended to them on Saturday. A nurse at the hospital said that many women, men and children had sustained "serious injuries".
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.
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.
Source: Associated Press