After big crowds gathered to collect leaking fuel, an oil tanker truck exploded outside Sierra Leone’s capital, killing at least 98 people and badly injuring scores more, officials and witnesses reported Saturday.
According to the National Disaster Management Agency, the explosion occurred late Friday when the tanker collided with another truck as it was pulling into a gas station near a busy intersection in Wellington, just east of the capital of Freetown.
“Both drivers exited their vehicles and told community residents to keep away from the scene as they attempted to repair a leak caused by the incident,” according to the agency.
Witnesses reported that even in this very destitute country, masses rushed in to get fuel. The source of the leaking fuel igniting was unknown at the time, but a large explosion occurred shortly after.
The Associated Press obtained video of a massive fireball burning in the night sky as survivors with serious burns called out in agony. The victims’ charred corpses were strewn over the site, awaiting transport to morgues.
Officials reported around 100 individuals were hurt and brought to local hospitals. According to Foday Musa, a staff member in the intensive care unit at Connaught Hospital, about 30 severely burned victims were not expected to survive.
Nurses attended to injured victims who were lying naked on stretchers after their garments were burned off in the fire that followed the explosion. Hundreds of people waited for news of their loved ones outside the mortuary’s main gates and near the hospital’s main entrance.
Overnight, hospital administrators called in as many physicians and nurses as they could to care for the injured. The country’s health-care system is still recovering from the Ebola virus that killed many of the country’s doctors and nurses between 2014 and 2016.
President Julius Maada Bio, who was in Scotland for UN climate talks on Saturday, condemned the “horrendous loss of life.”
He tweeted, “My deepest sympathy to families who have lost loved ones and those who have been maimed as a result.”
Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh said Sierra Leone’s National Disaster Management Agency and others would “work relentlessly” in the aftermath of the emergency.
“This national tragedy has greatly saddened us all, and it is definitely a tough period for our country,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
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