Eighty dead in Sierra Leone fuel explosion

Sierra Leone A hospital nurse said he had tended to women, men and children with serious injuries.  By Saidu BAH AFP
NOV 6, 2021 LISTEN
A hospital nurse said he had tended to women, men and children with "serious injuries". By Saidu BAH (AFP)

A massive explosion at a petrol station in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown killed at least 80 people, burning people in cars and streets nearby, a rescue worker and nurse said Saturday.

"We recovered 80 bodies from the site of the accident last night with our ambulances," the rescue worker from the Red Cross told AFP, adding rescue operations were still going on.

A nurse at a hospital where the victims were taken confirmed the number of dead to AFP, adding he had also tended to women, men and children with "serious injuries".

According to witnesses, the accident 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.

Hundreds of people gathered at the scene, with footage showing 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."

'Harrowing' footage

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.

"There are unconfirmed rumours that more than 100 people have lost their lives. The extent of damage to property is unknown."

Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh arrived on site on Saturday along with several local officials.

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.

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 collect leaking 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.

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