Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

Dozens of wounded are still being treated in hospitals, with 19 still in critical condition, authorities said.

Freetown, Sierra Leone – The death toll to a devastating fuel explosion last week in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, according to authorities rose to 131.

Another 63 people are still being treated at four Freetown hospitals, 19 of which are in critical condition, Mohamed Lamrana Bah, director of communications at the government’s National Disaster Management Agency, said on Wednesday.

The tragedy Friday occurred at a busy junction in Wellington, eastern Freetown, when a fuel tanker was hit by a truck, which later caught fire.

Victims include motorcycle drivers who rushed to pick up leaking fuel coming from the tanker, female traders along the road and commuters trapped in minibuses driving along the usually busy road.

Posters with photos of the missing and dead were pasted on walls and buildings around the site. More than 70 bodies were charred unrecognizably, and relatives of the missing told Al Jazeera that they now assume their loved ones were among them.

Crowds attend a mass funeral for victims of a fuel explosion in Freetown [Sally Hayden/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

Large numbers of people attended a mass funeral on Monday, where about 75 unidentifiable bodies were laid to rest in a cemetery that also contains victims of the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak and a 2017 mudslide, the country’s worst natural disaster involving more than 1 Killed 100 people. .

Government officials said tissue samples taken from each of the bodies would be sent abroad for testing.

“The corpses [were] numbered and tissue samples [were] also numbered before being taken for burial. It is being sent abroad for DNA testing and it could take several months before the results return, ”said Austin Kennan, the Sierra Leone country director for Concern Worldwide, a humanitarian organization that helps with the process.

“Excavations are also numbered so that we can identify people in the coming months. We hope it will bring comfort to those who have lost loved ones in this horrific and heartbreaking tragedy. “

Coffins containing victims of the fuel tank explosion seen in a row during a mass funeral in Freetown [Sally Hayden/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

In the first days after the blast, medics said they had no more supplies to treat the wounded. Al Jazeera saw a doctor meet potential donors of supplies in a ward at one of the city’s hospitals, directly next to some of the people who had sustained burns.

Bah, of the disaster management agency, said Sierra Leone had previously dealt with major disasters in terms of death toll, “but what makes this one very unique … [is] that people are engulfed in fire and burned unrecognizably – this is unprecedented for this country ”.

The World Health Organization has promised 6.6 tons of emergency medical supplies. Bah said several countries have also offered to send in burn specialists and clinical specialists. There was also a bloodbath, with locals being encouraged to donate to “save the victims of the Freetown explosion”.

Back at the scene of the explosion, the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society was registering the relatives and spouses of the dead and wounded, many of whom were hoping for government assistance.

“At the moment, it is our opinion that it is not really time for us to make promises for what we can do for them, but we will definitely come up with something,” Bah said.

Identifying the correct families is a slow process, he added, due to concerns that people unrelated to the incident could make false claims due to poverty or desperation.

“We want to take our time so that we can find workable strategies,” Bah said.

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