The death toll in the Freetown fuel tank explosion rises to 131 | News

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Dozens of injured people are still being treated in hospitals, with 19 still in critical condition, authorities say.

Freetown, Sierra Leone – The death toll after a devastating explosion of fuel tankers last week in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, has risen to 131, according to authorities.

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

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

Among the victims were motorcyclists who rushed to collect leaking fuel from the tanker, female traders on the roads and commuters trapped in minibuses that were backed up along the normally busy road.

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

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

A large number of people attended a mass funeral on Monday, where about 75 unidentifiable bodies were laid to rest in a cemetery that also houses victims of the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2015 and a landslide in 2017, the country’s worst natural disaster that killed more than 1,100 people.

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

“The body [were] numbered and tissue samples [were] also numbered before being buried. These are sent abroad for DNA tests and it can take a few months before the results return, says Austin Kennan, country manager for Sierra Leone for Concern Worldwide, a humanitarian organization that helps with the process.

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

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

In the first days after the explosion, doctors said they had run out of supplies to treat the wounded. Al Jazeera witnessed a doctor who met potential donors of supplies inside a ward of one of the city’s hospitals, right next to some of the people who had suffered burns.

Bah, from the Disaster Management Agency, said that Sierra Leone has dealt with major disasters in the past in terms of the death toll, “but what makes this very unique … [is] for people to be engulfed in fire and burned beyond recognition – it has never been seen before for this country ”.

The World Health Organization promised 6.6 tons of emergency medical equipment. Bah said several countries had also offered to send in experts on burns and clinical specialists. There has also been a blood test, in which locals are encouraged to donate to “save the victims of the Freetown explosion”.

Back at the scene of the explosion, the Sierra Leone Red Cross registered relatives and spouses of the dead and wounded, many of whom are hoping for state aid.

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

Identifying the right families is a slow process, he added, due to fears that people with no connection 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.