By Faith Nyasuguta
A humongous fireball sparked by a fuel tanker explosion has killed 98 people in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital.
Witnesses reveal that the blast took place when a fuel tanker collided with a separate truck at a petrol station on Friday night.
The flames then spread, burning people in cars and on roads nearby.
The West African country’s disaster management agency said the majority of the victims were street vendors and motorcyclists.
A volunteer worker Jusu Jacka Yorma who was at the scene detailed that the victims were caught in the blaze as they attempted to retrieve fuel leaking from the tanker before it blew up.
The National Disaster Management Agency said via a statement that 98 deaths had been recorded so far and “92 survivors are currently admitted to various hospitals in Freetown”.
Earlier, Sierra Leone Vice-President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh had given a death toll of 98 after arriving at the scene, indicating that all those injured would get free treatment.
A nurse at a hospital where the majority of victims were sent told AFP that many women, men and children had sustained “serious injuries”.
Over the weekend, rescue operations continued under police supervision.
Video footage circulating on social media 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 said via 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.”
Further, the United Nations office in Sierra Leone expressed its “deepest condolences” to the families of 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.
Sierra Leone is ranked among the world’s poorest countries despite having an abundance of diamonds. Its economy was deeply affected following a 1991-2002 civil war that left 120,000 dead.
AFRICA TANKER ACCIDENTS
In Sierra Leone, a nation that boasts a 7.5 million population, several petrol tankers have exploded before.
In other African nations, similar incidents have also left hundreds dead as people scramble to collect leaking fuel.
In 2009, over 100 people were killed when a petrol tanker overturned in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and an explosion burnt those gathering to try and siphon some of the fuel.
In 2019, another 100 people died after a tanker exploded in Tanzania in 2019, while in 2015 over 200 perished in a similar accident in South Sudan.
This year again, another ,13 people were killed and others seriously burnt when a “huge fireball” engulfed a crowd in Kenya in July as they siphoned fuel from an overturned petrol truck that ignited without warning.