National tragedy’: Sierra Leone mourns victims of tanker blast

Freetown, Sierra Leone – Relatives of the dead and injured from Friday’s fuel tanker explosion in eastern Freetown, Sierra Leone, 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.

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.

The explosion happened after a fuel tanker, which was turning on a busy road, was hit by a speeding truck. In the aftermath of the crash, dozens of people rushed forward to collect the leaking fuel in containers, with the hope of using or selling it.

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.

Source: Aljazeera