At least 98 people died in a tanker explosion Friday night after an accident in the capital of Sierra Leone.
Many of the victims were motorcyclists and taxi drivers who were trying to collect the fuel that spilled at the time of the blast in the Wellington area of the capital, Freetown, according to an official from the country’s disaster management agency. A witness to the aftermath of the blast said it also killed people nearby outside buildings and in vehicles.
The death toll could rise, the official, Mohamed Lamrana Bah, said as more people were taken to hospitals in critical condition, even though he could not specify a number.
The president of the West African country, Julius Maada Bio, said on Twitter he was “deeply disturbed” by what happened and promised government support to the affected families.
The tanker is thought to have been attempting a U-turn around 10pm when it collided with a truck carrying sand, Mr. Bah said. The tanker then started to lose fuel.
“Motorcyclists, taxi drivers and people from the neighborhood rushed to the scene to collect the leaking fuel, and in the meantime the tanker exploded,” he said in an interview Saturday morning.
Mr. Bah, who is the communications director of Sierra Leone’s National Disaster Management Agency, said a house and sand truck tires were still burning and that his agency and others were trying to clean up the ‘area.
In a video of the aftermath, a man cautiously walked away from the blast site, some rags – all that was left of his clothes – hanging from his badly burned skin. He appeared to have been among those who tried to collect fuel.
“Satan called me. Let’s pray. There is no other god but Allah. Let us pray ”, he repeated to himself as he walked.
The blast also set fire to a nearby gas station, Mr. Bah.
A student living nearby said he heard the explosion and felt its warmth in his home, and then rushed to the scene.
“We took off our shirts and bandaged our hands to lift the bodies from the fire scene and take them to a safe place,” said the student, Abdul Waheed Kamara, 26. “I personally rescued 16 people, the last of them was a woman. Me and another man helped her in a safe area. She was still alive but badly burned.”
He said he counted more than 100 bodies and that firefighters arrived about 30 minutes after the explosion. There were no soldiers there and the police officers were well away from the fire, he said.
Among the dead, according to Mr. Kamara: a child wearing a backpack, people sleeping in a nearby garage and parking lot, shopkeepers who tried to recover their goods and got stuck in the fire, and all the passengers in a minibus. who was struck by the force of the explosion.
“I can still see the scene of the woman I saved and I can’t get the images out of my head,” she said. “I will never be able to see that place again.”