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» 13.10.2010 - Half of Benin devastated by floods
» 24.05.2010 - Child marriages fought in Benin
» 10.02.2010 - Beninese told to observe good hygiene
» 15.07.2009 - Benin flood victims visited by ECOWAS
» 06.02.2009 - Children escape death in hospital
» 20.02.2008 - Benin let-go CAR rebel leaders
» 26.05.2006 - Toll rises to 54 in petrol tanker explosion
» 16.10.2003 - Beninese slave children return from Nigeria

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Toll climbs to 75 in petrol tanker explosion, scores of children orphaned

afrol News / IRIN, 31 May - A total 75 people have died and 24 are still receiving treatment after a petrol tanker in Benin caught fire and exploded a week ago as a crowd of people were siphoning petrol, hospital director Boniface Sambieni told the UN media 'IRIN'.

In the follow up to the drama, the government has decided to ban the sale of smuggled petrol products, saying too many people have died as a result of fires and explosions caused by these sales.

Twenty-three people died on the spot in the accident last Wednesday evening, but many of the injured were taken to hospital in critical condition suffering from third degree burns, and later died.

The Saint Jean de Dieu hospital, which did not have enough beds or medicine when the disaster occurred, meanwhile has been turned into a makeshift orphanage, with around 100 small children left orphaned by the accident, according to the chief doctor Father Florent Prulli.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF has provided food and bedding for the children while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has donated US $10,000 for surgery. A specialist medical team from an Italian burns unit is expected in the next few days, Prulli said.

According to a Benin news agency journalist, the accident in a village 700 kms northwest of Cotonou occurred when the driver lost control of the tanker, 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.

One young boy, Denis Yetouga, said the drama was the result of poverty. “It is difficult for our parents to bring us up. This was a means for them to make a little bit of money selling petrol.”

Home Affairs Minister Edgar Alia said the accident highlighted the problem of the sale of contraband petrol in the country. “Children are no longer even scared of these products. This is a real danger,” he said.

Last week’s drama was the latest in a string 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.

In less than two years, 200 people have died in 714 fires caused by smuggled petrol, said Industry Minister Moudjaidou Soumanou. “From June 15 the sale of smuggled petrol products will be banned,” he ruled.

But smugglers doubted the ban would have any effect. “We need to eat,” complained Urbain Kouti, who lives off selling contraband fuel.

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