Dar es Salaam. An overturned tanker, spilling oil and then the scramble for fuel.
The sight is common along East Africa’s highways and for a good reason; opportunity for the road side hangers-on.
But only if the habitual smoker is not around with his/her cigarette butt and a matchbox.
Chances of survival can also be there in the absence of sparks that could ignite fire from the screeching tanker body parts.
Yesterday’s disaster in Morogoro, which by press time had claimed the lives of 62 people and left 70 others injured, is another moment of horror on the country’s roads.
As the nation mourns, with investigations underway on the possible causes, questions linger on how safe are Tanzanians from fuel tanker blasts.
Police said that the 8 am road disaster at Msamvu, near the junction of major roads to Dodoma, Dar es Salaam and Iringa, happened after an oil tanker overturned and exploded into flames.
Most of the victims, according to them, were motor cyclists and food vendors who rushed to the overturned vehicle to scramble for the spilling oil.
President John Magufuli, now preparing to host the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Summit, said yesterday he was shocked by the tragedy.
The Head of State directed authorities to ensure proper treatment of the injured and warned Tanzanians against rushing to such deadly scenes.
The early morning inferno on the busy highway sent shock waves across the country, with many people expressing their sadness.
“It is very, very sad. This has become a common thing in Tanzania,” remarked an outraged Gasto Leseiyo from Arusha.
“The Police Force, specifically the Fire and Rescue department, needs to educate people on how to avoid such tragedies”.
Yusuph Kajela, a Dar es Salaam resident, said the fire and rescue stations should be increased to address such calamities.
He said members of the public, boda boda riders in particular, should be sensitised on the dangers of rushing to the spilling oil tanks.
But Prof Nuhu Hatibu, a Tanzanian agricultural expert working in various organisations in Uganda, went far as to the cause of yesterday’s tragedy.
Poverty is the cause
“The deaths were not caused by the overturning of the lorry! Not even by the overspilling of its content!
“Poverty is the cause because people rushed to the tanker to scoop the fuel,” he told The Citizen when reached for comment.
There had been conflicting reports on what actually ignited the fire which snowballed over the burning vehicle, then sending the sprawling town into deep mourning.
Eye witnesses said one of the people who rushed to the scene to siphon the leaking oil tried to disconnect the battery, leading to spark and then the fire.
Others said one of the people who rushed to the scene to scoop the free oil did so while smoking a cigarette or tried to light a match box.
The Commander of Operations with the Police Force, Liberatus Sabbas and the Commissioner of Fire and Rescue Force Thobias Andengenye were among the senior government officials who rushed to Morogoro.
They told reporters that the death toll would have been lower had people not rushed to the overturned tanker to scramble for the spilling oil.
Yesterday’s tragedy could be the worst in death toll to happen in Tanzania in recent years involving an oil tanker catching fire.
Until then, the worst calamity was the one in Mbeya in 2002 in which 40 people died and 100 injured when an oil tanker overturned.
Mbeya Region had also witnessed a number of similar road mishaps, including collisions between the oil tankers and other vehicles.
But Morogoro remains the scene of another heart rending tragedies. In April 2015, 18 people perished when a tanker collided with a bus.
Road tragedies involving the tankers are also common in East Africa and much of Africa, especially the oil rich Nigeria.
However, the worst recorded ones were recorded in South Sudan and Kenya where over 150 and 130 people perished in 2015 and 2009, respectively.