Benin: 35 burned alive in petrol-tanker blaze

At least 35 people were burned alive and dozens injured overnight in northern Benin when a fuel truck burst into flames while they were stealing petrol, official sources and witnesses said on Thursday.

“We took 80 people into hospital, of whom 12 died of their burns. At the scene, 23 charred bodies have been counted,” Boniface Sambieni, director of the hospital in the nearby town of Tanguieta, told Agence France-Presse.

The casualties from the accident at Porga, about 500km north of Cotonou, included women and children, Sambieni said.

Interior Minister Edgar Allia came out of talks with President Thomas Yayi Boni confirming the toll of 35 dead, according to staff at the Saint Jean de Dieu Hospital in Tanguieta.

“I’m going to Porga with emergency equipment and to assess the situation,” the minister added, saying he was acting at the behest of the small West African country’s head of state.

Allia told AFP the situation was “pretty serious and the toll could thus rise in the coming hours”.

A local police officer, reached by telephone in Porga, said that the fuel tanker had broken down on its way from Cotonou to the north. It was parked at the roadside when people arrived to steal the petrol it was carrying.

“The local residents had begun to siphon off the fuel when the tanker burst into flames, sparked by a lamp one of the thieves was carrying,” the officer explained, adding that police had opened an investigation.

A local teacher, Daniel Gounou, said that “around 10pm [local time] I heard yelling.
Once outside the house I could see the flames”.

“On the scene, there were several dozen people, mostly women but also some children, who were consumed in flames next to the truck, which had turned on its side.”

A Cotonou trader, Youssouf Allassane, arrived at the scene aboard a bus, from “which we could see thick smoke on the outskirts of Porga”.

“When we got into the town there were several ambulances and even civilian drivers transporting the burn victims to the hospital in Tanguieta. On the scene, we saw a completely charred tanker truck and lots of dead bodies, more than a dozen, some on the ground and others standing, burned alive.”

“Most of the survivors are in serious condition, with more than 80% of their flesh burnt,” Sambieni said, also reached by telephone from Cotonou, the commercial capital on the Gulf of Guinea.

Such accidents are infrequent in Benin, a small country of six million people on Nigeria’s western border.

In Nigeria, however, such tragedies are common.

The regional giant is Africa’s main oil and natural-gas producer, but the Nigerian domestic fuel refinery and distribution network is in such bad shape that shortages are frequent and people in the oil-producing regions tap directly into pipelines.—AFP

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