Benin has been rocked by a catastrophic explosion at a fuel depot, resulting in the loss of at least 35 lives. Eyewitnesses and officials on the scene have provided harrowing details of the disaster, which unfolded in the town of Seme-Podji, near the border with Nigeria.
The destructive fire ignited on a fateful Saturday, engulfing a warehouse containing smuggled fuel. Seme-Podji, a bustling hub where vehicles, motorbikes, and tricycle taxis commonly sought to replenish their fuel supply, bore witness to this tragic event.
Benin’s Prosecutor, Abdoubaki Adam-Bongle, revealed that an initial assessment counted 35 fatalities, tragically including a child. Witnesses indicated that the blaze likely erupted during the unloading of gasoline bags, sparking a catastrophic chain reaction.
Over a dozen individuals sustained severe injuries and are currently receiving medical treatment. Shocking videos of the incident, widely circulated on social media and verified by Al Jazeera, depict a towering column of black smoke and flames rising above what appears to be a local marketplace. Helpless bystanders watched in horror from a safe distance as the inferno raged on.
Alassane Seidou, Benin’s Interior Minister, has attributed the catastrophe to smuggled fuel, emphasizing that the victims’ bodies were severely charred by the blaze. Fuel smuggling is a rampant issue along Benin’s border with Nigeria, a significant oil-producing nation. The region has witnessed the proliferation of illegal refineries, fuel storage sites, and pipelines, often leading to destructive fires.
Local residents who experienced the tragedy firsthand shared their accounts. Semevo Nounagnon, a local bike driver, recounted, “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.”
Innocent Sidokpohou, a local carpenter, described the chaotic scene, saying, “We heard people screaming for help. But the intensity of the flames was too much for people to try to approach.”
As the nation grapples with this devastating incident, the justice ministry has launched an investigation to determine the precise cause of the fire, shedding light on the circumstances that led to this tragic loss of life.