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Oil tanker tragedy: Police say death toll could rise after many reported missing

KISUMU, Kenya July 18 – It is feared the death toll from a Saturday night fuel tanker fire ball could rise as more people were still missing.

The official death toll as announced by police stood at 13 Sunday, after one more person succumbed to burns sustained during the tragedy that occurred at Malanga in Gem, on the Kisumu-Busia highway.

“It burst into flames as they scooped fuel that was flowing,” said Charles Chacha, a local police chief in Siaya County where the accident occurred.

“We counted 12 bodies at the scene. Another person died in hospital from their injuries.” The Kenya Red Cross said as many as 27 people were hospitalized while several others were reported missing. There was no exact figure given on the missing people because it kept increasing.

12 people were burnt on the spot when the petrol tanker went up in flames as villagers, mainly boda boda riders, scooped fuel with jerrycans.

“I appeal to locals to always learn from the lash incidences where we have lost lives in similar circumstances,” warned Nyanza police boss Karanja Muiruri.

Police fear some may have been burnt completely near the oil tanker, after bones were found on the scene.

Fire crews arrived on the scene two hours later to douse the inferno while those injured in the blast were taken to hospital.

The tanker overturned while trying to avoid an oncoming vehicle. It is then that it hit another and rolled during the 10:30pm incident.

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The first group of villagers who rushed to scoop fuel survived, and witnesses said the fire started when the second group and others who were on the second round scrambled for the fuel flowing on the trenches.

A similar incident occurred in Sidindi area along the same road over 10 years ago when scores were killed while scrambling for fuel from a n overturned tanker.

Survivors from the Saturday night accident recounted the ordeal as they scrambled for fuel.

Primary and secondary school learners were caught up in the incident that killed some of their parents.

“We were sleeping when we heard a loud bang,” said a class four pupil, “We rushed out since we live next to the road. When I reached with my brother we saw people armed with jerricans scooping fuel and that is when fire broke out.”

A victim hospitalised with serious burns told Capital FM, “I got burnt plus my brother as others died in the inferno.”

Some witnesses said they suspect the fire started from the nearby power lines that came into contact with the truck after the accident.

“The trailer fell on the electricity line and that could have caused the fire,” said a Form Two student who also survived the fire.

Images broadcast by local TV stations mainly captured by witnesses showed the blazing tanker lighting up the night sky and in the morning following, crowds gaping at the twisted, smoldering wreckage.

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Deadly fuel truck accidents along perilous roads are not uncommon in Kenya and the wider East Africa region.

In 2009, more than 100 people were killed when a petrol tanker overturned northwest of Nairobi and an explosion consumed those gathering to collect leaking fuel.

More recently, at least 100 people were killed when a tanker exploded in Tanzania in 2019 while in 2015 more than 200 perished in a similar accident in South Sudan.


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