At least 98 killed in oil tanker explosion in Sierra Leone

An oil tanker exploded near the capital of Sierra Leone, killing at least 98 people and seriously injuring dozens, officials and witnesses said, after large crowds gathered to collect the spilled fuel.

The explosion occurred late Friday night, when the tanker collided with another vehicle as it approached a gas station near a busy intersection in Wellington, east of the capital, Freetown, according to the National Disaster Management Agency.

«Both drivers got out of their cars and warned community residents to stay away from the scene of the accident while they were trying to fix the leakage caused by the collision,» the agency said.

But eyewitnesses said that in this very poor country, crowds still flock to collect fuel. The cause of the ignition of the leaked fuel was not known, but it was soon followed by a massive explosion.

Video obtained by the Associated Press showed a giant fireball burning in the night sky.

The remains of the victims were scattered at the scene, waiting to be transported to the mortuaries.

Officials said about 100 injured people were taken to hospital. Foday Musa, an intensive care unit worker, said around 30 people with severe burns were not expected to live in Connaught Hospital.

Hundreds of people walked out of the main gates of the mortuary and near the main entrance to the hospital, waiting for news of their loved ones.

Hospital officials called in as many doctors and nurses as possible overnight to care for the wounded.

The country’s healthcare sector is still recovering from the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic, which killed many doctors and nurses in the country.

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President Julius Maada Bio, who was in Scotland for UN climate talks on Saturday, lamented the «terrible loss of life».

«My deepest sympathies are with the families who lost loved ones and who have been maimed as a result,» he wrote on Twitter.

Vice President Mohamed Jeldah Jalloh visited two hospitals overnight and said the National Disaster Management Agency in Sierra Leone and elsewhere was «working tirelessly» in the wake of the emergency.

«We are all deeply saddened by this national tragedy, which is truly a difficult time for our country,» he said on his Facebook page.

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