Tanker truck explodes in Sierra Leone, killing at least 98 people

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At least 98 people were killed when a tanker truck exploded Friday night after an accident in the Sierra Leone capital.

Many of the victims were motorcyclists and taxi drivers who had been trying to collect spilled fuel at the time of the explosion, in the Wellington area of ​​the capital Freetown, according to an official with the country’s disaster management agency. A witness in the aftermath of the blast said it had also killed nearby people outside buildings and in vehicles.

The death toll may rise, the official, Mohamed Lamrana Bah, said because more people were taken to hospitals in critical condition, although he could not specify a number.

The president of the West African country, Julius Maada Bio, said on Twitter that he was “deeply disturbed” by what happened and promised the government’s support to the affected families.

The tanker is believed to have been attempting to make a U-turn around 10 p.m. when it collided with a truck carrying sand, Bah said. Then the tanker began to lose fuel.

“Bicyclists, taxi drivers and people from the neighborhood rushed to the scene to collect the leaking fuel, and in the process, the tanker exploded,” he said in an interview Saturday morning.

Bah, who is the communications director for Sierra Leone’s National Disaster Management Agency, said a house and the tires of the sand truck were still burning, and that his agency and others were trying to clear 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 clothing, hanging from his badly burned skin. He appeared to have been among those who attempted to collect fuel.

“Satan called me. Let us pray. There is no other god but Allah. Let us pray ”, he repeated to himself as he walked.

The blast also set a nearby gas station on fire, Bah said.

A student who lives nearby said he heard the explosion and felt its heat in his home, and then ran to the scene.

“We took off our shirts and wrapped our hands to remove the bodies from the scene of the fire and take them to safety,” said 26-year-old student Abdul Waheed Kamara. “I personally rescued 16 people, the last of them was a woman. Another man and I help her get to safety. She was still alive but badly burned. “

He said he had counted more than 100 bodies and that firefighters had arrived about 30 minutes after the explosion. There were no soldiers there and the police officers were a long way from the fire, he said.

Among the dead, according to Kamara: a child with a backpack, people sleeping in a nearby garage and parking lot, merchants who tried to rescue their goods and were caught in the fire, and all the passengers of a minibus that was hit by the force of the explosion.

“I can still see the scene of the woman I rescued, and I can’t get the images out of my head,” he said. “I won’t be able to see that place the same again.”

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