The death toll from a huge gas station explosion and flooding in Ghana’s capital has more than doubled to 200 people, the president said Thursday night.
Dozens of people had sought shelter at the gas station and in nearby shops in central Accra to escape the torrential rains at the time of Wednesday night’s blast. Flooding swept fuel being stored at the station into a nearby fire, triggering the explosion that also set ablaze neighboring buildings, officials said.
The West African nation will observe three days of mourning with flags flying at half-staff, and the government will allocate about $12 million for relief operations and to repair damaged infrastructure, President John Dramani Mahama told journalists before heading into an emergency meeting.
Before Mahama’s announcement, the death toll stood at 73. The president didn’t give a breakdown, but the new figure appears to include people killed in the explosion, others who drowned at the blast site trying to escape the flames and still more who drowned elsewhere in the city.
TV footage earlier on Thursday showed corpses being piled into the back of a pickup truck and other charred bodies trapped amid the debris. Flood waters around the site hampered rescue and recovery efforts.
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Officials at the nearby 37 Military Hospital said its morgue had reached capacity.
Mahama visited the blast site during the day, calling the death toll “catastrophic” and offering condolences to families of the victims.
“Steps will be taken to ensure that disastrous floods and their attendant deaths do not occur again,” he said.
Michael Plange, who lives a few blocks away, said many people had taken shelter under a shed at the station from the rain and were hit by the explosion.
The flooding “caused the diesel and petrol to flow away from the gas station and a fire from a nearby house led to the explosion,” said Billy Anaglate, spokesman for Ghana’s national fire service.
The deaths are likely to intensify criticism of the government’s failure to improve the country’s infrastructure. Though the downpours this week have been especially bad, heavy rains in June are not unusual — yet drainage systems in Accra remain inadequate.
The area where the blast occurred is a heavily trafficked section of central Accra with several banks and other offices in addition to residences. Multiple bus terminals connect the area to the rest of the city.
Throughout Accra, drivers caught in the flooding abandoned their cars on the road. The Education Ministry instructed all children who weren’t already at school Thursday morning to stay home.
The city is also grappling with an energy crisis resulting in blackouts lasting for as long as 48 hours in recent years, sparking large-scale demonstrations that have drawn everyone from blue-collar workers to local movie stars.
[with inputs from IANS]