Sierra Leone must learn from tanker blast, says president

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Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio said on Sunday the West African country "must learn" from the deaths of over 100 people killed in a fuel tanker explosion in the capital Freetown.

Three days of national mourning would begin on Monday with flags ordered to fly at half mast and prayers held nationwide on Friday and Sunday, he said in a televised address to the nation.

"We are going to concentrate on helping those who are critically injured right now," Bio said earlier in the day after returning from Britain, where he had been attending the COP26 climate conference.

Reiterating the government's promise of free treatment for the injured, the president added that the country "must learn from this unfortunate incident".

"Let us come together and learn from this, let us say never again it will happen," he said.

The blast occurred when a fuel tanker collided with another truck at a petrol station on Friday night, according to witnesses.

The flames then spread, burning people in cars and on roads nearby.

Most of the victims were street vendors and motorcyclists, many of whom were caught in the blaze while trying to retrieve fuel leaking from the tanker before it ignited, an eyewitness said.

- Medical supplies needed -

Hundreds of people were picking through the wreckage on Sunday for any valuable materials they could find.

"I lost two family members and my entire business in the explosion," hawker Mohamed Kamara told AFP.

"We need help to restart our lives all over again."

The National Disaster Management Agency on Sunday said the death toll had risen to 101 with 91 more in hospital after the explosion in an industrial area of Freetown.

Bio said on Sunday the authorities were working on plans to give a "dignified burial" to the dead.

Health Minister Austin Demby warned that "at the moment we don't have enough medical supplies" to treat all the victims.

But he added that after contacting the World Health Organization, the government was "very hopeful for a huge medical consignment to reach Sierra Leone in the next 24 hours".

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