Tuesday, 30 November, 2021
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92 killed in Sierra Leone fuel tanker explosion

FREETOWN: A massive explosion at a petrol station in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown has killed 92 people, the country's vice president said on Saturday.

Hospitals were treating 88 more people for severe burns, said Vice-President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, who arrived at the scene on Saturday along with several local officials, reports AFP.

A rescue worker and a nurse had earlier confirmed at least 80 deaths to AFP, with the nurse saying he had treated women, men and children with "serious injuries".

According to witnesses, the blast happened when a vehicle caught fire at a petrol station after a road accident.

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, according to volunteer worker Jusu Jacka Yorma who was at the scene.

Hundreds of people gathered on Saturday morning, many searching for missing relatives under the eye of security forces.

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."

Freetown mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr said she was "deeply saddened" to hear about 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."

Accidents involving petrol tankers have happened before in Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world.

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.