A large fire erupted at an unauthorized fuel depot in Benin on Saturday, September 23, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 35 lives. The depot ignited into flames, creating a dense cloud of black smoke in the sky.
The incident took place in the town of Seme-Podji near the border with Nigeria, a major oil producer state in Africa.
Oil smuggling is rampant in border areas of Benin, where illegal refineries, fuel dumps and pipelines have sprung up without any restrictions. Cars, motorbikes and tricycle taxis often use their services for refuelling. Due to mismanagement and lack of safety measures, fire incidents are quite common in these illegal facilities.
What caused the incident?
According to Prosecutor Abdoubaki Adam-Bongle, the fire probably started during the unloading of bags of gasoline.
“The fire burned down the store and according to an initial assessment resulted in 35 deaths including one child,” Prosecutor Abdoubaki Adam-Bongle in a statement.
He said more than a dozen others were left seriously injured and are being treated in hospital.
Benin’s Interior Minister Alassane Seidou said the “cause of the fire is smuggled fuel”. He said the blaze left the bodies of the victims “badly charred”.
Reactions from locals
People who live nearby expressed shock at the incident, who said the flames were so strong that nobody could extend a helping hand to the victims.
“I live not far from the tragedy,” Semevo Nounagnon, a local bike driver, told the AFP news agency.
“I can’t really give you the cause of the fire, but there is a large gasoline warehouse here and cars, tricycles and motorcycles come from morning to evening.”
“We heard people screaming for help. But the intensity of the flames was too much for people to try to approach,” said Innocent Sidokpohou, a local carpenter.
“I got gas for my motorbike to go do my shopping. I left and barely five metres away I heard an explosion. When I turned around it was all black smoke,” he added.