DAR ES SALAAM – A fuel tanker exploded in eastern Tanzania on Saturday killing at least 60 people, authorities said, as flames ripped through a crowd that had gathered to siphon petrol from it.
Video clips circulating on social media showed the charred remains of dozens of young men and burnt motorbikes. In footage from before the explosion, a large crowd was collecting liquid from puddles in yellow jerry cans.
“The fire was huge and it was challenging to rescue victims. I have seen about 65 to 70 people being rescued because the fire was fast spreading across the accident area,” witness Daniel Ngogo told Reuters.
“The situation is really bad. Many people died here, even those who were not stealing fuel because this is a busy place,” said Ngogo.
In the aftermath, one man held his face in his hands as he watched a huge plume of black smoke twist onto the sky.
“People started running and I fell down, everyone tried to escape but it was too late,” said local resident Hasani Oligenes, twisted bodies and motorbikes piled up behind him.
Government spokesman Hassan Abbasi said at least 60 people died and 70 were injured in the blast, which occurred in Morogoro, a town around 200 km (120 miles) west of the commercial capital Dar es Salaam.
The government was helping coordinate the salvage operation “to ensure we bury the bodies… relatives identify the bodies of their loved ones, and those injured get proper treatment,” he added, in comments broadcast live by a state TV channel.
President John Magufuli was “shocked and saddened” by the accident, his office said in a statement.
South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Minister Naledi Pandor has – on behalf of the South African government – sent condolences to the people of Tanzania.
“We received the sad news of a fuel tanker explosion that tragically killed over 60 people in Tanzania. I wish to express on behalf of the South African Government our heartfelt condolences to the people and Government of Tanzania,” said the Minister on Sunday.
The tragic explosion took place as President Cyril Ramaphosa prepares to head to Tanzania for his first state visit after South Africa’s national elections.
President Ramaphosa will undertake the state visit to Tanzania from 14-15 August 2019, at the invitation of his Tanzanian counterpart, President John Pombe Magufuli.
The state visit by the President aims to deepen existing economic, political, cultural and social relations between the two countries.
Sources: Reuters and SANews.gov.za (Writing by Hereward Holland; editing by John Stonestreet/Reuters and Jenni Baxter/SAPeople)