- Fifty-four people were killed and dozens injured when a petrol tanker in Benin caught fire and exploded as they were siphoning petrol, police and hospital sources said.
Police told IRIN that the toll on Friday had risen from 39 to 54, and hospital sources said 10 people remained in critical condition.
Earlier in the day, Boniface Sambieni, director of the Saint Jean de Dieu de Tanguieta hospital, told IRIN that a third of around 60 people injured were in critical condition suffering from third degree burns. Twenty-three people had died on the spot in the accident Wednesday evening in northwest Benin. The remainder died while receiving treatment.
The hospital did not have enough beds or medicine for the injured, some of whom were being looked after in makeshift conditions in a meeting room, said Sambieni. The local government head Paul Tawema said extra staff and medicine were being rushed north to help.
The hospital director said he did not know how the accident had occurred. He had been called to the scene late at night in the village of Tega 700 kms northwest of Cotonou and had helped the evacuate the injured as there were no ambulances available.
A journalist with the Benin national news agency said the driver of the tanker, which was heading to Mali, lost control of the vehicle, which tipped over onto the side of the road. When local villagers arrived to siphon off the petrol, the engine was still hot and a spark ignited the fuel, causing the explosion.
A television correspondent who arrived on the scene later said the accident occurred when a homemade lamp carried by a villager fell over and ignited a fire.
This week’s drama is the latest in a string of disasters in Benin involving petrol.
The tiny West African nation, one of the world’s 20 poorest according to UN figures, with one out of three people living below the poverty line, has been severely short of petrol products due to soaring world prices and hitches in domestic supply.
But with Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, as its neighbour, cheaper petrol has been flowing easily if illegally across the border, easing shortages but triggering successive accidents.
In one such incident late last year, four people turned into human torches and shops and traffic lights were scorched at rush hour in the heart of the main city Cotonou when a motorbike crashed into a petrol smuggler hauling several 50-litre cans of contraband petrol. The cans exploded.
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