Thirteen people have died and others seriously burned in northwest Kenya after a petrol truck that had overturned caught on fire, and a “huge fireball” engulfed a crowd on Saturday night.
As the fuel tanker collide with another vehicule on a highway connecting the town of Kisumu to neighbouring Uganda, onlookers rushed to the crash site with jerrycans to collect the leaking fuel.
But the truck ignited without warning, leaving many shocked and scarred.
“We were woken up by a very loud blast. When I rushed out, I saw a huge fireball and people were screaming,” said nearby resident Jack Odhiambo.
Those on the scene first managed to get away safely with some fuel, said witness Magdalene Adhiambo.
But others went back for a second round, and the crowd grew larger as more and more people arrived hoping to get lucky.
“We left to go get fuel from the overturned tanker, my neighbour who lives next door left for the fuel too. We got some on the first trip and brought it home but when we went back for the second time, that is when the tanker exploded,” recalls Diana Odongo, who lost two relatives in the explosion.
“You couldn’t see anywhere”
Over 20 survivors received treatment in this nearby hospital. Wycliffe Otieno said he had just started filling his jerrycan when the slick around him ignited, leaving him with burns.
Wycliffe Otieno said he had just started filling his jerrycan when the slick around him ignited.
“I was able to run to safety… I just don’t know how lucky I was, because I have been told the people we were with did not survive,” Otieno said from his hospital bed.
“You couldn’t see anywhere, I couldn’t run because I was already on fire, and it burnt my hands and my trousers because I had touched petrol . I even had a friend who burnt there,” said another victim that declined to give his name.
Charles Chacha, a local police chief in Siaya County where the accident occurred, said 24 people were in hospital with serious burns. Earlier, he said children were among those injured.
“The death toll we have as of now is still 13. These are bodies at the mortuary,” Chacha said.
Police said Sunday the death toll could rise, with investigators trying to account for those missing, and charred bones found among the twisted wreckage of the fuel tanker.
Fire crews arrived on the scene two hours later to douse the inferno. The cause of the explosion is not yet known.
Four motorbikes were found smouldering not far from the tanker. Witnesses said motorcycle drivers had rushed to the site with jerrycans and were close to the tanker when it exploded.
“Some were burned with their motorbikes,” said Otieno.
Deadly accidents involving fuel trucks are not uncommon in Kenya and the wider East Africa region. In 2009, more than 100 people had died in similar circumstances northwest of Nairobi.
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.