FREETOWN: A man stands near burnt vehicles yesterday following a massive explosion that has killed at least 92 people. - AFP

FREETOWN: A massive fireball sparked by a fuel tanker explosion killed 92 people in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, the West African country's vice president said yesterday. Hospitals were treating 88 more people for severe burns, said Vice-President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, who arrived at the scene yesterday along with several local officials. According to witnesses, the blast happened on Friday night when a fuel tanker collided with another truck at a petrol station. The flames then spread, burning people in cars and on roads nearby.

The majority of the victims were street vendors and motorcyclists, many of whom were caught in the blaze while trying to retrieve fuel, according to volunteer worker Jusu Jacka Yorma who was at the scene. A nurse at a hospital where victims were sent told AFP that many women, men and children had sustained "serious injuries".

HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah yesterday sent a cable of condolences to Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio. HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah sent similar cables to the president. "Deeply disturbed by the tragic fires and the horrendous loss of life," Bio wrote on Twitter. "My profound sympathies with families who have lost loved ones and those who have been maimed as a result. My government will do everything to support affected families."

Rescue operations continued under police supervision yesterday, an AFP correspondent said. Contrary to some initial reports, a fuel depot near the accident did not explode, the correspondent added. Hundreds of people gathered yesterday morning, many searching for missing relatives under the eye of security forces. Video footage showed a burnt-out tanker and a truck, and the surrounding area littered with husks of vehicles, some still smoldering.

Freetown mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr said she was "deeply saddened" to hear about the explosion. "The video and photo footage making rounds on social media are harrowing," she wrote on Facebook. "The extent of damage to property is unknown." Accidents involving petrol tankers have happened before in Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world.

In other parts of Africa, similar incidents have also left many dead as people gather to collect leaking fuel. In 2009, more than 100 people were killed when a petrol tanker overturned northwest of Kenyan capital Nairobi and an explosion burnt those gathering to try and grab some of the fuel.

At least 100 people were killed when a tanker exploded in Tanzania in 2019, while in 2015 more than 200 perished in a similar accident in South Sudan. In July this year, 13 people were killed and others seriously burnt when a "huge fireball" engulfed a crowd in Kenya as they siphoned fuel from an overturned petrol truck that ignited without warning. - Agencies