Sierra Leone fuel tanker explosion kills at least 99

Rescue operations are ongoing after a fuel tanker exploded in a Freetown suburb

An oil tanker exploded near Sierra Leone’s capital, killing at least 99 people and severely injuring dozens of others, after crowds gathered to collect leaking fuel, officials and witnesses said on Saturday.

The explosion took place late on Friday after a bus struck the tanker in Wellington, a suburb east of Freetown.

The death toll currently stands at 99 with more than 100 casualties being treated in hospitals and clinics across the capital, deputy health minister Amara Jambai told Reuters.

Foday Musa, a staff member at Connaught Hospital, said around 30 severely burnt victims brought in for treatment were not expected to survive.

Injured people whose clothes had burnt away in the fire that followed the explosion lay naked on stretchers as nurses attended to them on Saturday.

"We've got so many casualties, burnt corpses," said Brima Bureh Sesay, head of the National Disaster Management Agency, in a video from the scene shared online. "It's a terrible, terrible accident."

Videos of the explosion’s aftermath, posted to social media, showed a giant fireball burning in the night sky as survivors with severe burns cried out in pain.

President Julius Maada Bio, who was in Scotland attending the UN climate summit on Saturday, deplored the “horrendous loss of life”.

“My profound sympathies with families who have lost loved ones,” he said on Twitter.

Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh visited two hospitals overnight and said Sierra Leone’s National Disaster Management Agency and others would “work tirelessly” after the emergency.

“We are all deeply saddened by this national tragedy, and it is indeed a difficult time for our country,” he said on his Facebook page.

Accidents involving petrol tankers have happened before in Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Similar incidents elsewhere in Africa have also left many dead.

In 2009, more than 100 people were killed when a petrol tanker overturned north-west 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, and 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.

Updated: November 10th 2021, 5:15 AM