Tanker Truck Explodes in Sierra Leone Killing at Least 98. The truck first started leaking fuel and people had rushed to collect it, an official said. Many of them died in the blast, along with others nearby. At least 98 people were killed when a tanker truck exploded on Friday night after a crash in the capital of Sierra Leone.
Many of the victims were motorcycle riders and taxi drivers who had been trying to collect leaked fuel at the time of the blast, in the Wellington area of the capital, Freetown, according to an official from the country’s disaster management agency. A witness to the explosion’s aftermath said it had also killed people nearby outside buildings and in vehicles.
The death toll may rise, the official, Mohamed Lamrana Bah, said, because more people were taken to hospitals in critical condition, though he could not specify a number.
The West African country’s president, Julius Maada Bio, said on Twitter that he was “deeply disturbed” by what had happened and promised government support for the families affected.
He and the mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, cut short their trip to Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit and were on their way home on Saturday afternoon.
Sierra Leone’s vice president, Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, asked those who had taken fuel to return it, in case it exploded in their homes.
The tanker truck is thought to have been attempting a U-turn about 10 p.m. when it collided with a truck carrying sand, Mr. Bah said. The tanker truck then began leaking fuel.
“Bike riders, taxi drivers and people around the neighborhood rushed to the scene to collect the leaking fuel, and in the process, the tanker exploded,” he said in an interview on Saturday morning.
Mr. Bah, who is the communications director of Sierra Leone’s National Disaster Management Agency, said that one house and the tires of the sand truck were still burning, and that his agency and others were trying to clear the area.
In one video of the aftermath, a man walked gingerly away from the site of the explosion, a few rags — all that was left of his clothes — hanging from his badly burned skin. He appeared to have been among those who tried to collect fuel.
“Satan called me. Let us pray. There is no other god but Allah. Let us pray,” he repeated to himself as he walked.
In another video circulated on WhatsApp, survivors of the explosion lay on the floor, tried to sit up, or moved about groaning in a room of Freetown’s King Harman Road Satellite Hospital. Staff members tended to them and handed out sachets of drinking water.
The explosion also set fire to a nearby gas station, Mr. Bah said.
A student who lives nearby said he had heard the blast and felt its felt its heat in his home, and then rushed to the scene.
“We removed our shirts and wrapped our hands to lift bodies from the burning scene and took them to a safe place,” said the student, Abdul Waheed Kamara, 26. “I personally rescued 16 people, the last of them was a woman. Me and another man helped her to a safe area. She was still alive but badly burnt.”
He said he had counted more than 100 bodies, and that the fire service had arrived about 30 minutes after the explosion. There were no soldiers there, and police officers were standing well back from the fire, he said.
Among the dead, according to Mr. Kamara: a child wearing a backpack, people who were asleep in a nearby garage and parking lot, shopkeepers who tried to salvage their goods and got caught in the fire, and all the passengers of a minibus that was hit by the force of the explosion.
“I can still see the scene of the woman I rescued, and I can’t get the images off my head,” he said. “I won’t be able to see that place the same again.”
Europe|Spanish Police Seek Missing Plane Passengers After Emergency Landing
More than 20 people fled a Moroccan flight that diverted to Mallorca after a passenger apparently fell ill. A dozen had yet to be found.
The Spanish police were searching on Saturday for a dozen passengers on a flight from Morocco to Turkey who fled into the Spanish island of Mallorca after their plane made an emergency landing at the airport there.
The plane, a Friday-evening Air Arabia Maroc flight from Casablanca to Istanbul, asked to divert to Palma de Mallorca to treat a person on board who had reported falling sick, according to Spanish air traffic authorities, and landed at around 8 p.m.
The passenger was taken to a hospital but soon discharged and detained on suspicion that he had faked illness in order to allow himself and others to enter Spain illegally, according to the police.
While he was being hospitalized, the police statement said, other passengers fled the plane across the tarmac and managed to cross the airport’s perimeter fences.
The chaos kept the airport, a major tourism hub, closed for more than three hours, and forced several other planes to divert.
It also brought a new aspect to Spain’s repeated struggles with illegal crossings, both by land from Morocco to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and from West Africa by sea, a route that has frequently had deadly consequences.
The police did not identify the man who was hospitalized, but said in a statement that he had apparently suffered a diabetic coma on the flight. He was reported by Spanish media to be Moroccan. A fellow passenger who accompanied him to the hospital also fled.
Aina Calvo, the representative of the Spanish central government in the Balearic Islands, of which Mallorca is the largest, told a lunchtime news briefing on Saturday that an incident like that at Palma’s airport had “never before happened in any other part of our country.”
She said 24 people were involved and had been identified from the passenger list, of whom 12 had since been detained. While the police continued searching for some missing passengers, the investigation, she said, was also looking at whether this had been a carefully planned escape, or instead a more spontaneous decision by some passengers to flee once the plane had landed.
“So far we don’t have any data that allows us to affirm that this was an orchestrated operation,” Ms. Calvo said. “We have to finalize the investigation, to establish causality and then decide whether we have to revise some proceedings” to avoid a repeat.
She said that the detained passengers faced deportation to their country of origin, Morocco, but could also face Spanish judicial action on an accusation of violating aviation rules, and potentially other charges.
The plane eventually resumed its flight to Istanbul, with all its remaining passengers.
Palma’s airport reopened shortly before midnight. Aena, Spain’s national airport operator, said that 13 planes had to be rerouted to Barcelona and other airports. More than 40 other flights suffered significant delays or cancellations.