An oil tanker exploded near the capital of Sierra Leone, killing at least 98 people and seriously injuring dozens after large crowds gathered to collect the spilled fuel, officials and witnesses said Saturday.
The explosion occurred on Friday night when the tanker collided with another truck as it was heading to a gas station near a busy intersection in Wellington, east of the capital, Freetown, according to the National Disaster Management Agency.
“Both drivers got out of their cars and warned community residents to stay off the scene while they were trying to remedy a leak resulting from the collision,” the agency said.
But eyewitnesses said that in this very poor country, crowds still rush to collect fuel. It was not immediately known what caused the fuel leak to ignite, but a massive explosion soon followed.
Video obtained by the Associated Press showed a giant fireball burning in the night sky as some severely burned survivors screamed in pain. The charred remains of some of the victims were scattered at the scene, waiting to be taken to the morgue.
The authorities said that about 100 injured people were taken to hospitals in the area. About 30 people with severe burns were not expected to live at Connaught Hospital, according to Foday Musa, an ICU employee.
The injured, whose clothes were burned in the fire that followed the explosion, lay naked on stretchers while nurses treated them on Saturday. Hundreds of people grind in front of the main doors of the mortuary and near the main entrance to the hospital, waiting for news of loved ones.
Osman Tembo said his 13-year-old brother, Muhammad, was among the dead.
“He left the house and said he would buy bread for us to eat,” said Tempo. “When I heard about the explosion, I went to the scene and saw my younger brother lying down and he was completely burnt. I feel bad. I loved him so much!”
Hospital officials called in as many doctors and nurses as possible during the night to take care of the wounded. The country’s health sector is still reeling from the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic, which killed many doctors and nurses in the West African country.
President Julius Maada Bio, who was in Scotland for UN climate talks on Saturday, lamented the “terrible loss of life”.
“My condolences to the families who lost loved ones and those maimed as a result,” he wrote on Twitter.
Vice President Mohamed Jeldah Jaloh visited two hospitals overnight and said the Sierra Leone National Disaster Management Agency and others would “work tirelessly” in the wake of the emergency.
“We are all deeply saddened by this national tragedy,” he said on his Facebook page.
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