At least 92 people have been killed in a tanker truck explosion Friday evening in the industrial zone of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, West Africa, the country’s vice president said in a statement.
Eyewitnesses said the tanker exploded at a petrol station after colliding with another heavy truck. Then the fire spread like wildfire to the neighborhood.
Contrary to what was initially reported by the AFP rescuer, the fuel depot near the crash did not explode, the AFP reporter found.
Jusu Jacka Yorma, a witness and volunteer rescuer for AFP, said most of the victims were street vendors and motorcyclists caught in the fire as they tried to retrieve fuel from the tanker.
In addition, “88 people with severe burns are in the intensive care unit of Connaught Hospital in Freetown,” he added, adding that all survivors will be cared for free of charge.
A nurse at the hospital where the victims were evacuated confirmed to AFP that she had received several women, men and children with “serious injuries”.
Several burnt bodies were found in the wreckage of a car that was still smoking at the scene of the explosion and the streets adjacent to it.
On Saturday morning, as relief work continued under police supervision, several residents rushed to the scene of the tragedy in search of relatives, an AFP reporter said.
– “Heartbreaking” Pictures –
In a message posted on Twitter on Saturday, President Julius Mata Bio said he was “deeply moved by the tragic fire and the horrific loss of life.”
“I extend my deepest condolences to the bereaved and bereaved families,” he said, adding that “his government will do everything possible to support the families of the victims.”
The UN office in Sierra Leone, as a partner in the country, promised to “closely monitor the situation and be ready to implement the response needed to assist the government.”
For his part, the mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyer, said in a statement posted on Facebook that he was “deeply saddened”. “The videos and photos circulating on social networks are captivating,” Aki-Sawyer added, regretting that he could not go there because he was going abroad.
Sierra Leone, a former British colony with a population of 7.5 million, is one of the poorest countries on the planet, despite its diamond-rich soil.
Its economy, plagued by corruption, was devastated by the Civil War (1991-2002), which killed about 120,000 people.
It remains fragile even after the Ebola epidemic that devastated the country in 2014-2016, the fall in global commodity prices and the Govt-19 epidemic.
Accidents like this happen frequently in Africa. In July, in Kenya, 13 people were killed and others were severely burned when a “big fireball” sank people sucking fuel from an overturned tanker.
In 2019, about 100 people were killed in a similar tragedy when a tanker truck exploded in Tanzania, and in 2015, more than 200 were killed in another similar accident in South Sudan.