JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — A fuel truck exploded in South Sudan, killing dozens of people who had converged around the vehicle to siphon fuel, officials said Thursday.
Eighty-five people were killed in the accidental explosion in Western Equatoria state on Wednesday, presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told The Associated Press. However, the provincial governor, Patrick Raphael Zamoi, cited a much higher death toll of 176 and said others were critically injured.
“People are still dying; they have not assessed the exact number in the hospital,” Zamoi said.
The explosion happened in Maridi town after the truck veered off the road, according to Ateny.
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Citing local authorities, he said the tanker was “full of petrol” that started to leak and residents were siphoning off fuel when someone lit a cigarette, sparking an explosion.
Ateny said the injured were taken to local hospitals, which were overwhelmed. Some victims were burned beyond recognition, he said.
Layal Horanieh, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in the South Sudanese capital of Juba, said the aid group has sent two burn kits to Maridi, each with enough equipment to treat at least 50 patients.
Deadly fuel tanker explosions are common in East Africa, where poor residents living near highways converge around fuel tankers involved in accidents to steal gas and then sell it.
In June 2013, 29 people were killed and scores injured in an explosion after a collision between a fuel truck and a passenger van in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.