PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria – A speeding fuel tanker crashed and spilled its cargo Saturday in Nigeria’s main southern city, and as many as three dozen people were feared dead in the resulting fire, police and witnesses said.
One of the truck’s wheels appeared to burst as the vehicle sped before dawn through a turn in an outlying neighbourhood of Port Harcourt, tipping the tanker over and sending the fuel spilling across cars and into shop doors before igniting in a fireball, witnesses said.
“I heard a loud bang and I came out of my shop. I saw fire running down towards my shop, but I escaped,” said Matthew Eliagwu, a 61-year-old shop owner. “It was impossible to help anyone, because I had to run for my life.”
The metal frames of 14 cars were visible, some with fragments of identifiable human remains still inside. About 20 shops lay in ruins, some still smoldering hours after the crash.
Up to three dozen people were feared killed in the blaze, said a Rivers State police spokeswoman, Ireju Barasua. But police were investigating and had no firm casualty toll, she cautioned.
The blaze did not appear linked to the region’s militants, who have promised to step up their campaign of bombings and kidnappings. A spokesman for fighters couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
On Friday, the militants said they remotely detonated a bomb on a fuel tanker ship docked at Port Harcourt, sending clouds of smoke billowing into the sky. Three people were injured in that incident.
Road accidents are common in Nigeria, where years of neglect has left the road network in poor condition, and automobiles are often poorly maintained. The sides of major thoroughfares are frequently crowded with the stalls of petty traders, so accidents frequently have high death tolls.