Morogoro, Tanzania | AFP | Sixty-four people perished in Tanzania Saturday when a fuel tanker overturned and then exploded as crowds of people rushed to syphon off leaking fuel.
The deadly blast, which took place near the town of Morogoro, west of the economic capital Dar es Salaam, is the latest in a series of similar disasters in Africa.
“At the moment, there are 64 dead after two of the 72 people who were injured died from their wounds,” the governor of Morogoro, Stephen Kebwe, told reporters at the scene in Msamvu, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of Dar es Salaam.
Footage from the scene showed the truck engulfed in fierce flames and huge clouds of black smoke, with charred bodies and the burnt-out remains of motorcycle taxis scattered on the ground among scorched trees.
Regional police chief Wilbrod Mtafungwa described a “huge explosion” and said the dead were mainly drivers of the taxis known as “boda-boda” and locals who flocked to the scene for the fuel.
A video posted on social media showed dozens of people carrying yellow jerricans around the truck.
The tragedy has also triggered an outpouring of grief across the country, with President John Magufuli and ordinary citizens sending messages of condolences.
Magufuli also called for people to stop the dangerous practice of stealing fuel in such a way, something that is common in many poor parts of Africa.
– ‘Never seen a disaster of such magnitude’ –
“The Morogoro region had never experienced a disaster of such magnitude,” Kebwe said, explaining that the explosion was triggered when a man tried to retrieve the truck’s battery.
“We arrived at the scene with two neighbours just after the truck was overturned. While some good Samaritans were trying to get the driver and the other two people out of the truck, others were jostling each other, equipped with jerricans, to collect petrol,” teacher January Michael told AFP.
“At the same time, someone was trying to pull the battery out of the vehicle. We warned that the truck could explode at any moment but no one wanted to listen, so we went on our way, but we had barely turned on our heels when we heard the explosion.”
Police managed to put out the flames and cordoned off the area.
Magufuli said in a statement he was “very shocked” by looting of fuel from damaged vehicles.
“There are vehicles that carry dangerous fuel oil, as in this case in Morogoro, there are others that carry toxic chemicals or explosives, let’s stop this practice, please,” he said.
Governor Kebwe said that all doctors at the regional hospital had been mobilised and patients not in a critical condition had been moved to other sites to make room for blast victims.
A small crowd, mostly women, had gathered in front of the hospital, trying to get news of family and friends who had gone missing.
“I haven’t heard anything from my brother,” said one woman, Aisha Ramazan.
“He was in his kiosk on the side of the road. I got a phone calling saying no one had heard from him after the explosion. I’ve been trying to reach him on his phone, but I can’t get him,” she told local media.
Last month, at least 45 people were killed and more than 100 injured in central Nigeria when a petrol tanker crashed and then exploded as people tried to gather fuel.
In May, a similar incident occurred in Niger just a short distance from the airport in the capital Niamey, leaving almost 80 people dead.
Among the deadliest such disasters, 292 people lost their lives in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in July 2010, and in September 2015 at least 203 people perished in the town of Maridi in South Sudan.