Freetown’s hospitals buckle as death toll from explosion climbs over 100

Medics fear staff and supplies shortage as at least 88 people still in city’s hospitals

In hospitals in Freetown, Sierra Leone, medics worried they are fast running out of medical supplies, as crowds of anxious family members waited at the gates, scanning lists and quizzing passersby to find out if their loved ones are inside the makeshift burns wards.

Last night the death toll following the explosion of an oil tanker reached 101, while at least 88 people are still being treated in hospitals across the city.

Healthcare workers said they need more painkillers, IV fluids and antibiotics. One medic, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media, said there were not enough staff or supplies to handle the cases, which means “more will die” who might have been saved.

The explosion took place on Friday night after a speeding truck collided with a fuel tanker making a turn. When fuel began to leak from the tanker, dozens of people rushed towards it, filling containers which they hoped to use or sell.


Witnesses said the driver of the tanker got out of the vehicle, warning people to step away because it was dangerous. As the road remained blocked and traffic built up, one witness said he believed the spark came from a motorbike driver’s exhaust pipe.

Officials are debating what is the best way to manage the burial of the dead. In a meeting held by Sierra Leone's National Disaster Management Agency on Sunday afternoon, a ministry of health official said that only six of the dozens of people who died on the night were identifiable.

Along with how the burials will be conducted, they are discussing if relatives should be permitted to attend and whether Sierra Leone has the capacity to collect samples from the bodies or do DNA testing to confirm who was among the dead.

Sierra Leonean president Julius Maada Bio cut short a visit to the UK, where he was attending the Cop26 climate conference, saying he would "lead our nation in mourning, visit the wounded and burned in hospitals, and do all we can do as a nation to support victims and their families".

European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was among those to send condolences, tweeting that the EU "stands in solidarity with the people and the government of Sierra Leone".

Similar explosions have happened elsewhere, including in Tanzania in 2019, when the death roll reached 85, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018, when about 50 people were killed.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa