NIAMEY: Fifty-five people died in Niger's capital Niamey overnight when an overturned tanker truck exploded as crowds tried to collect spilt fuel, authorities and witnesses said yesterday. The blast on the RN1 route near Niamey's international airport left the burnt truck's wreckage, motorbikes and debris scattered over the road. Nearby houses were also damaged by fire.

The toll from the explosion was 55 dead and 36 injured, an interior ministry spokesman said. "Motorbike riders and people were all around the truck when it exploded all of a sudden," a local trader said. "I saw at least 40 dead." Witnesses said people were trying to collect petrol leaking from the truck, which had overturned on railway tracks, when the explosion happened.

NIAMEY: Residents pass near the calcined tanker truck after an explosion which killed more than 55 people near the airport of Niamey yesterday. - AFP

"It just before midnight when I went out and I saw the truck overturned. People came from everywhere to take gas, then I saw fire on its side and everything burst into flames," a college student told AFP. Niger, a poor West African country, has been trying to stamp out fuel smuggling from neighboring Nigeria. Nigeria, a major oil producer, has seen similar deadly accidents and explosions in the past when people try to steal fuel from oil pipelines. - AFP