By Agence France-Presse
Sixty-two people perished in Tanzania on 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.
Tanzania’s chief of police operations Liberatus Sabas said that 58 men and four women were killed in the explosion, while 72 people were being treated for injuries at the local hospital.
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 prominent figures including 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,” governor Stephen Kebwe told reporters at the scene in Msamvu, which lies about 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of Dar es Salaam.
He said the explosion was triggered when a man tried to pull out 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 later said they had managed to put out the flames and had 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.
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 were trying 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.west of the capital Nairobi, killing some 122 people.