Sat, May 27, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Fuel truck explosion in northern Benin burns 38 to death

AFP , COTONOU, BENIN

At least 38 people were burned to death and around 65 were injured in the small west African state of Benin when a fuel truck from which they were stealing petrol burst into flames, officials and witnesses said on Thursday.

Many of the victims were reported to be women and children.

"Three people have just died in hospital ... That brings the total number of dead to 38," Boniface Sambieni, director of the hospital in the nearby northern Benin town of Tanguieta, said.

Charred bodies

He said the charred bodies of 23 people burnt alive at the scene had been discovered lying by the tanker, which exploded on Wednesday night.

Eighty injured people had been hospitalized, of whom 12 had died earlier on Thursday.

"Most of the survivors are in serious condition, with more than 80 percent of their flesh burnt," Sambieni said.

The explosion occurred in Porga, about 500km north of the capital Cotonou.

Interior Minister Edgar Allia broke off talks with President Thomas Yayi Boni to travel to the scene.

"I'm going to Porga with emergency equipment to assess the situation," the minister said, adding that he was acting at Boni's behest.

Serious

Allia said the situation was "pretty serious and the toll could [therefore] rise in the coming hours."

A local police officer in Porga said that the fuel tanker had broken down on its way from Cotonou to the north and parked at the roadside.

"Police rushed to the scene to chase away the local residents," but as soon as the police returned to their headquarters "the villagers came back under cover of night and it was in approaching the truck with a lantern that they set fire to it," he added.

"Once outside the house I could see the flames," local teacher Daniel Gounou said.

"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," Gounou said.

Description

A Cotonou trader, Youssouf Allassane, who had arrived in Porga by bus, described what he saw.

"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," he said.

"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," Allassane said.

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