At least 34 persons have died in Seme Podji, a border town in Benin Republic, when a contraband fuel depot exploded into flames, sending up a black cloud of smoke into the sky and leaving dozens of charred bodies at the site.
The blaze erupted on Saturday at a warehouse for smuggled fuel in the southern town of Seme Podji, where cars, motorbikes and tricycle taxis came to stock up on fuel.
Fuel smuggling is common inside the country and along its borders, with illegal refineries, fuel dumps and pipelines sometimes causing fires.
“I am still in shock. We heard people screaming for help. But the intensity of the flames was too much for people to try to approach.
“I got gas for my motorbike to go do my shopping. I left and barely five meters away I heard an explosion. When I turned around it was all black smoke,” Innocent Sidokpohou, a local carpenter, told AFP.
Benin’s Interior Minister, Alassane Seidou, told reporters a serious fire had ocurred in the town, but did not give details about exactly how it had happened.
“Unfortunately we have 34 deaths including two babies. Their bodies are charred because the cause of the fire is smuggled fuel,” the Minister said.
The minister said another 20 persons were being treated in hospital, including some in serious condition.
“I live not far from the tragedy,” said Semevo Nounagnon, a local bike driver.
“I can’t really give you the cause of the fire, but there is a large gasoline warehouse here and cars, tricycles and motorcycles come from morning to evening,” he added.