Saturday 10 December 2016

Death toll from blast at Ghana petrol station rises to 150

* Death toll exposes city's poor infrastructure
* Scene littered with corpses, wreckage
* President says heartbroken by loss of life

Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Kwasi Kpodo

Published 04/06/2015 | 18:12

A car lies in a water trench that washed away after heavy rain near a gas station explosion in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, June 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian Thompson)
A car lies in a water trench that washed away after heavy rain near a gas station explosion in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, June 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian Thompson)
Ghana security personnel stand near the gas station that exploded in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, June 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian Thompson)
Rescue workers carry the remains, of a person a killed in a gas station explosion in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, June 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian Thompson)
Cars are piled up after being washed away after heavy rain near a gas station explosion in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, June 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian Thompson)
Firefighters spray water over the smoldering remains a gas station following an explosion in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, June 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian Thompson)
Firefighters spray water over the remaining structure of a gas station after it exploded in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, June 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian Thompson)
The remains of people killed in a gas station explosion are loaded onto a truck in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, June 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian Thompson)
Rescue workers carry the remains, of a person onto the back of a truck after being killed in a gas station explosion in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, June 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian Thompson)
The remaining structure of a gas station after it exploded in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, June 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian Thompson)
Rescue workers carry a corpse from the remains of a petrol station that exploded overnight killing around 90 people in Accra, Ghana, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Matthew Mpoke Bigg
A fire services officer walks at the wreckage of a gas station that exploded overnight killing around 90 people in Accra, Ghana, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Matthew Mpoke Bigg
The charred wreckage of a minivan is seen at a gas station that exploded overnight killing around 90 people in Accra, Ghana, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Matthew Mpoke Bigg
A soldier stands guard at the wreckage of a petrol station that exploded overnight killing around 90 people in Accra, Ghana, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Matthew Mpoke Bigg
A soldier stands guard at the wreckage of a petrol station that exploded overnight killing around 90 people in Accra, Ghana, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Matthew Mpoke Bigg
Rescue workers carry a corpse to a truck from the remains of a petrol station that exploded overnight killing around 90 people in Accra, Ghana, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Matthew Mpoke Bigg
Rescue workers carry a corpse from the remains of a petrol station that exploded overnight killing around 90 people in Accra, Ghana, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Matthew Mpoke Bigg
Rescue workers carry a corpse from the remains of a petrol station that exploded overnight killing around 90 people in Accra, Ghana, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Matthew Mpoke Bigg

An explosion at a petrol station in Ghana's capital killed around 150 people sheltering from a storm early on Thursday, emergency services said, in the worst disaster to strike the West African state in more than a decade.

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The force of the blast gave few a chance to escape. People were burned beyond recognition where they stood under the station's awning, or trapped in the charred wreckage of cars and minivans parked on its forecourt.

The accident was caused by a fire at a nearby lorry terminal. Flames spread to the state-run GOIL petrol station via spilt fuel floating on flood water, fire brigade spokesman Prince Billy Anaglate said.

"It was an explosive fire and so the people sheltering at the filling station did not have an opportunity to escape," Anaglate said.

The charred wreckage of a minivan is seen at a gas station that exploded overnight killing around 90 people in Accra, Ghana, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Matthew Mpoke Bigg
The charred wreckage of a minivan is seen at a gas station that exploded overnight killing around 90 people in Accra, Ghana, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Matthew Mpoke Bigg

It was Ghana's worst disaster since more than 120 people died in May 2001 in a stampede at the national stadium during a football match, a police spokesman said.

The incident exposed Accra's vulnerability to storms, given poor drainage and weak infrastructure that has failed to keep pace with population growth after years of rapid economic expansion.

Low-wage workers struggling to get home through the storm, with roads closed and minivan buses not running, formed the bulk of those caught in the explosion, witnesses said.

Several other people were swept away by the seasonal storm in the coastal city and thousands more were made homeless as flood waters rose, officials said.

Rescue workers carry the remains, of a person a killed in a gas station explosion in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, June 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian Thompson)
Rescue workers carry the remains, of a person a killed in a gas station explosion in Accra, Ghana, Thursday, June 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian Thompson)

Ghana is one of Africa's most stable democracies and for years its exports of gold, cocoa and oil made it one of the continent's fastest-growing economies. But since 2013 it has wrestled with a fiscal crisis and lower commodity prices, and growth this year is projected to fall to below the average for sub-Saharan Africa.

By morning, Ghana's security forces had doused the flames and secured the area, pegging back anxious crowds. Rescue workers wearing face masks retrieved the remaining bodies, including that of a small child, and piled them onto a truck. Some cars were still smouldering.

President John Mahama said he was heartbroken by the loss of life. He blamed the floods partly on people building homes and businesses on waterways, blocking the city's drainage systems.

"This loss of life is catastrophic and almost unprecedented," Mahama said as he visited the scene. "We must sit down and strategise to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Opposition leader Nana Akufo Addo, who also went to the site, described the disaster as a "dark day in the history of the city".

Some officials said many new Accra gas stations had sprung up without proper permits, but noted that the destroyed GOIL station had been there for years. Ghana's meteorological service forecast more rain on Thursday.

Reuters

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