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Tanker Explosion: The World morns as 101 is killed in Sierra Leone

Tanker Explosion: The World morns as 101 is killed in Sierra Leone
Aminata Susan Kamara, 27, who sells soft drinks in the area of the blast, said a lot of her friends are still missing after Friday’s explosion [Sally Hayden/Al Jazeera]
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A fuel tanker has exploded following a collision in the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown, killing at least 101 people and injuring dozens of others, officials said.

 

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

 

The death toll on Saturday afternoon stood at 99, with more than 100 people being treated in hospitals and clinics across the city, deputy health minister Amara Jambai told Reuters news agency.

 

Victims included people who had flocked to collect fuel leaking from the ruptured vehicle, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, mayor of the port city, said in a post on Facebook.

Tanker Explosion: The World morns as 99 is killed in Sierra Leone
Tanker Explosion: The World morns as 101 is killed in Sierra Leone

Several badly burned victims lay on the streets as flames blazed through shops and houses nearby, unverified social media images showed.



“The video and photo footage making rounds on social media are harrowing,” Aki-Sawyerr said.

 

The extent of damage to property was as yet unknown, the mayor said, adding that police and her deputy were at the scene to assist disaster management officials.

 

“We’ve got so many casualties, burned 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.”

 

Omar Fofana, a journalist speaking from the scene of the explosion, told Al Jazeera that dozens of people have admitted at various hospitals.

 

Health services have been stretched, with hospitals “asking for everything that they need to be able to respond,” he added.

 

Fofana said that many people were sitting in heavy traffic when the explosion happened.

 

“Many of those who died, or were burned, were burned inside their vehicles,” he said.

 

According to Fofana, an emergency response meeting is expected to take place later on Saturday, which will be chaired by the country’s vice president.

 

President Julius Maada Bio, who was in Scotland attending the United Nations climate talks, deplored the “horrendous loss of life”.



“My profound sympathies with families who have lost loved ones and those who have been maimed as a result,” he wrote on Twitter.

 

Deeply disturbed by the tragic fires and the horrendous loss of life around the Wellington PMB area. 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.

— President Julius Maada Bio (@PresidentBio) November 6, 2021

 

Nigeria

Following the fuel tanker explosion in Freetown, President Muhammadu Buhari says the sympathies of the entire nation are with the government and people of Sierra Leone.

 

The Nigerian leader said: ”I’m anguished by the unfortunate loss of lives and injury to so many.”

 

He offered condolences on behalf of the government and people of Nigeria to the bereaved families, the government and people of Sierra Leone and wished the injured an early recovery.

 

Liberia

President of Liberia, George Weah, has sent his condolences to President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone and his citizens over the fuel tanker explosion that occurred on November 5, in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

 

Weah made this known in a statement issued by Jarlawah Tonpo, Liberia’s Deputy Information Minister for Press and Public Affairs on Sunday.

 

The President said he was deeply saddened by the dreadful loss of lives resulting from the explosion, as he described the accident as a major tragedy for the region.

 

According to the statement, the tanker was reported to have collided with another vehicle in a very densely populated part of the city, leaving scores dead and many others badly injured.

 

Weah called on Liberians and West African Citizens to pray with Sierra Leone as the country reels from the consequence of such a terrifying incident.

 

The statement partly read, “The President also extended heartfelt condolences to his counterpart, President Julius Maada Bio, the government and people of Sierra Leone, families of the deceased, and all those impacted by the accident.

 

“Weah offered Liberia’s full support and assistance as the Sierra Leonean authorities begin efforts to treat the injured and recover the dead.



“The Liberian Leader beseeched the Almighty God to grant solace and respite to the bereaved families while granting repose to the souls of the deceased.”

 

United Nations

The UN has commiserated with government and people of Sierra Leone over the explosion of a petroleum tanker in Freetown.

 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres joined the whole UN system in Sierra Leone in mourning the victims of a fuel tanker collision on Friday night in the capital.

 

Guterres, in a statement, said he was “deeply saddened by the extensive loss of lives”, resulting from the crash, when the tanker collided with a lorry at a busy junction in the suburb of Wellington, spilling fuel, before igniting.

 

The resulting blaze engulfed other vehicles and pedestrians nearby.

 

“The secretary-general extends his deep condolences to the people and Government of Sierra Leone and wishes those injured a speedy recovery.

 

“The United Nations is prepared to provide the necessary support in the aftermath of this tragic incident,’’ he said in a statement by his spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric.

 

The UN Office in Sierra Leone also issued a statement wishing “fortitude and peace to the bereaved families, and the Government and people of Sierra Leone, in this period of grief.”

 

“Furthermore, as partners in the country’s development aspirations,” the UN family in the West African nation said it was closely monitoring the situation.



“The UN said it would work with the Government to overcome what the country’s Vice-President, Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, reportedly described as a “national disaster”, after visiting the scene of the crash.’’

 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) tweeted on Saturday that it was “mobilising specialised supplies”.

 

“We are working to deploy burnt-patient care experts. We will provide more support as needed, at this terrible time for the people of Sierra Leone.”

 

National Tragedy

Sierra Leone’s president, Julius Maada Bio later paid visit to the site of a deadly fuel blast and promised to assist the bereaved families.

 

“Blame or no blame, for now let us take care of the wounded, we are going to take care of the ones that lost their lives and as a community let us come together and learn from this,” said President Julius Maada Bio.

 

The fire started after an explosion in the Wellington area of Freetown.

Tanker Explosion: The World morns as 101 is killed in Sierra Leone

Fatmata Bangura lost two of her sisters. The flames incinerated people in their cars as wells on nearby roads.

 

“I am in pain as I speak, it’s only God that can console me. We’re suffering, my sister fell victim as a result of the hardship we’re facing. She went in search for her child who had left earlier to hawk and also got trapped in the fire,” she said.

 

Africanews Sierra Leone correspondent said the incident had left people devastated. He said recovery work was underway on Sunday.

 

The head of the country’s told Africanews that the death toll which stood at 99 on Sunday was expected to grow.

 

“After the inferno, when we were able to put the fire under control, we have 92 people injured, 48 admitted at the Connaught hospital right now, 6 at the Choithram Hospital, 20 at the 34 Military Hospital and 18 at the Emergency hospital, totaling 92; but the numbers keep rising as we get hourly briefs from the Hospitals,” Lieutenant General Brima Sesay, the Director-General of the National Disaster Management Agency.

 

Angry residents have accused the authorities of taking long to put out the fire.

 

Many other relatives of the dead and injured have been gathering at hospitals across the city, searching for their missing loved ones.



Dozens were waiting inside the compound of Connaught Hospital, central Freetown, on Sunday, where the largest numbers of injured were taken.

 

On one wall were lists – some typed, some handwritten – of patients who had been identified. A young man asked for a pen so he could write his phone number beside his brother’s name, saying he still had no information about his brother’s condition. Another man said his son was in the hospital but wasn’t too “damaged”, and he hoped to take him home soon.

 

Ibrahim Tucker said he was visiting his sister in the area when the explosion took place.

 

“I didn’t see what caused the fire, I just saw flames,” he told Al Jazeera.

 

“I ran away … People were really, really damaged [injured] – the people who didn’t die. Many people lost their lives and some really needed medical attention, a lot of them.”

 

Hassan Kanu, 52, a local community worker who had contacts at the Red Cross, said he called them to take away bodies in the aftermath. “They arrived dressed like they were fighting Ebola and took the bodies to their vehicle,” he said.

 

Kanu said the people close to the tanker when the explosion happened had “turned to ash so you cannot recognise their faces”.

 

He described a motorbike driver trying to put out the flames engulfing him by speeding towards a water tank with his bike on fire. “He’s at the hospital [now] and we don’t know if he is alive or if he passed away. The fire was over his body.”

 

Kanu said many people in the area have lost their livelihoods due to the widespread destruction.

 

“Today is a sad day for us and we cannot even have food or anything to eat … We need assistance,” he said.

 

Many of the victims were female traders who sell small goods on the side of the usually busy road.

 

“A lot of my friends are missing,” said Aminata Susan Kamara, 27, who sells soft drinks.

 

She said she heard the sound of the vehicles crashing before people started rushing forward and calling their relatives on the phone to come and gather fuel with them.



Like other witnesses, she said the driver of the tanker disembarked, shouting at people to stay away. After that, she left to go home, but from a distance realised that fire had broken out.

 

Chaos ensued, and Kamara said some people trapped in minibuses died because the conductor refused to let them out until they had paid their fares – a story repeated by another witness.

 

On Saturday, young men were scavenging for scrap metal close to charred vehicles and areas of ash-covered ground that were still smoking. A crowd stood gaping at what some of them said was a piece of burned flesh.

 

Victims who survive will have significant long-term needs, including plastic surgery, physiotherapy, and counselling on living with disfigurement, said Colonel Dr Stephen Sevalie, who oversees medical care in the 34 Military Hospital, where seven people died after they were admitted and roughly 20 were being treated in what was once a COVID-19 ward.

 

“We have to deal with what we have. We are putting together plans,” Sevalie said.

 

President Julius Maada Bio cut short a visit to the United Kingdom, where he was attending the COP26 climate conference, to return and meet victims of the disaster. He visited the site of the explosion on Sunday morning.

 

“Let us be law-abiding,” he told the gathered crowd. “We have lost over 100 of our compatriots in a single instance and now we are struggling with about one hundred survivors in the hospitals. This is a moment to come together and avoid the blame game … We must say never again will we make such a mistake.”

 

“This national tragedy is heart-rending,” he added in a televised address on Sunday evening while saying he had reassured victims of the government’s commitment to supporting them.

 

The death toll of the Friday night disaster has risen to 101, according to officials from Sierra Leone’s National Disaster Management Agency. The West African country has declared three days of national mourning.

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