Tanzania mourns as scores killed in fuel tanker blast

Funerals take place for the victims of explosion that took place near the eastern town of Morogoro.

    Tanzania mourns as scores killed in fuel tanker blast
    Members of the military bury the bodies of people killed in the explosion [Emmanuel Herman/Reuters]

    Tanzania has laid to rest most of the people who died while trying to collect leaking petrol from an overturned fuel tanker that exploded.

    The blast, which took place on Saturday near the eastern town of Morogoro, sent huge clouds of black smoke into the sky, with charred bodies and the burned-out remains of motorcycle taxis scattered on the ground among scorched trees, footage from the scene showed. 

    President John Magufuli on Sunday declared a period of mourning through Monday.

    He was represented at funerals by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, who said 71 people died and 59 others injured while speaking at a ceremony in Kola, some 20 minutes from where the disaster occurred about 200km west of Dar-es-Salaam, the country's largest city.

    White coffins were lowered into graves by members of the security forces, after which Islamic or Christian religious leaders said brief prayers.

    DNA tests will be carried out on bodies that were burned beyond recognition, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jenista Mhagama said on Sunday, adding that families could take the remains of their loved ones and organise their own burials if they preferred.

    Religious leaders walk out of the morgue facility at the Morogoro referral hospital [Emmanuel Herman/Reuters]

    Witnesses said the truck tipped over while trying to avoid a motorcycle, before drivers of motorcycle taxis known as "boda-boda" as well as locals flocked to the scene to collect fuel.

    The explosion was triggered when a man tried to retrieve the truck's battery, creating sparks that ignited the fuel, according to the region's governor.

    ''I came here on a motorcycle and as we approached the area we found the truck overturned," a witness told media at the scene.

    "The driver got off and asked the riders to get away, warning that the vehicle could catch fire. The riders didn't listen and continued to fetch the leaking fuel.

    "A man tried to steal the vehicle's battery and that's when the fire started," he added. 

    Magufuli on Sunday visited some of those injured in the blast who had been transferred to a hospital in Dar-es-Salaam. 

    "May God heal you," he said to the 43 patients, some in very serious condition, according to the doctors who accompanied the president.

    Meanwhile, Prime Minister Majaliwa announced on Sunday that a special commission would be established to investigate if any management failures had contributed to the disaster.

    "While our now-dead compatriots were gathering to syphon fuel, did anyone try to stop them?" Majaliwa asked.

    Magufuli has called for people to stop the dangerous practice of stealing fuel in such a way, a common event in many poor parts of Africa.

    He issued a statement saying he was "very shocked" by the looting of fuel from damaged vehicles.

    "There are vehicles that carry dangerous fuel oil, as in this case in Morogoro, there are others that carry toxic chemicals or explosives, let's stop this practice, please," Magufuli said.

    At one of the funeral services broadcast on television, a Pentecostal pastor said, "This should serve as a lesson to us. When there is an accident like this, we should steer clear and let rescue workers do their job." 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies