At least 99 killed after oil tanker explodes in Sierra Leone

People walk by burning debris following the explosion of an oil tanker. Credit: AP

At least 99 people have died after an oil tanker exploded near Sierra Leone's capital city.

The disaster happened early on Saturday morning after a bus struck the tanker at a gas station in Wellington, a suburb just to the east of Freetown. Crowds appeared to have scrambled to collect leaking fuel from the tanker moments before the explosion.

Video showed a giant fireball burning in the night sky following the explosion, as some survivors with severe burns cried out in pain. Charred remains of the victims lay strewn at the scene awaiting transport to mortuaries.

Video appears to show crowds rushing to collect leaking fuel from the tanker moments before the explosion happened

President Julius Maada Bio, who is in Scotland attending the United Nations climate talks, deplored the “horrendous loss of life.” “My profound sympathies with families who have lost loved ones and those who have been maimed as a result,” he tweeted.

The National Disaster Management Agency confirmed the 91 deaths, but added that many more people are in a critical condition.

Crowds survey the aftermath of the explosion.

Earlier on in the morning, Brima Sesay, the National Disaster Management Agency's Director General said in a video posted on Facebook: "It's a terrible, terrible incident that we've never seen before.

“We have so many casualties, burnt corpses“.

Freetown's Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyer spoke of "harrowing" social media footage.

"I am deeply saddened to hear about an explosion along Bai Bureh Road, Wellington, after a [tanker] carrying fuel collided with another truck.

"The video and photo footage making rounds on social media are harrowing. There are unconfirmed rumors that more than 100 people have lost their lives. The extent of damage to property is unknown.

"My sympathies go out to the families and loved ones of the victims of the explosion. May the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace."