Morogoro. Usega Juma Rajabu, 40, is among 17 survivors of the August 10 Morogoro fuel tanker fire likely to be out of danger.
But the ‘boda boda’ rider, who is probably aware of the dangers posed by the highly inflammable petrol, regrets why he went to the spot that was soon to become a graveyard.
“I was looking for clients in the Msamvu area. Suddenly, I passed by a leaking fuel tanker. I did not scoop oil”, he told The Citizen from the Morogoro regional hospital bed late on Friday.
Mr Rajabu was able to narrate the event effectively, despite severe burns on his legs, arms and face, apparently passed by the fuel tanker.
For seconds, according to him, he stood on the tarmacked Morogoro-Dar es Salaam highway as people continued drawing fuel with many others being attracted to the area.
Suddenly a big bang rented the air on the spot which had increasingly become noisy as people scrambled for the free fuel while others struggling to rescue the driver and others, who were trapped inside the tank.
Being a ‘boda boda’ rider, he knew what was happening. He immediately vacated the area, leaving his motorbike.
He thought the best he could escape from the fierce flames was by crossing to the other side of the road where there were fewer people standing or running.
His agility and quick sense certainly saved his life from the blaze but not from the flames which ‘followed’ any smell of petrol like the heat-seeking aircraft missiles.
He had stepped on oil as he came closer to the spot where people were tapping free oil from the tank while the substantial amount was flowing downstream.
The rubber shoes he wore that day had traces of petrol and so were his arms and upper side of the body which came into contact with petrol fire that has spread on the branches of the nearby trees.
“If I had known, I would not have gone there”, he said at the hospital’s Ward 1C, imploring fellow Tanzanians not to move closer to any leaking fuel tank. “It is deadly, deadly and deadly,” he insisted.
Despite fighting some flames on his legs and other parts of his body, he sought refuge to what he described as his ‘office’, not very far from the Msamvu up-country bus terminal.
The next thing he found himself at the Morogoro Regional Hospital with other fire victims. He said although the admitted patients were normally not updated on the other victims, he had learnt some of his friends had perished.
“They are gone for sure. I saw them burning but I don’t see them here”, he explained, noting that all the victims were first brought at the regional hospital before they were airlifted to the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) in Dar es Salaam.
He said he was the only bread winner in his family of four kids who were not yet through with school but thanked God he had survived the deadly blaze.
Shukuru Fabian, 37, another ‘boda boda’ rider, said the lucky survivors of the horror, were those who came into contact with traces of petrol from those who exited the epic centre after the blast.
“I went there just to see how the situation was (before the explosion and subsequent fire). I was some distance from the fuel tanker which had been surrounded by scores of people, some scooping oil.
“But we were overwhelmed by people running from the centre after the fire outbreak. Many had been ‘washed down’ by the petrol after the explosion with the flames following them,” he explained.
Mr Fabian appreciated the rescue efforts which soon got underway. “We were soon rushed to the hospital”, he told The Citizen, expressing his sadness over the death of some of his relatives, friends and neighbours.
He was born and raised at Mwembesongo, a suburb in Morogoro which bore the brunt of the disaster in terms of deaths and injuries due to its proximity.
The expansive ward is sandwiched between the Morogoro-Dar es Salaam highway on one side and the Morogoro municipal centre on the other.
It is close to Msamvu which hosts one of the most busy bus terminals in the country and a major road junction to the southern highlands, Dodoma, the western and lake regions and the Dar es Salaam commercial hub.
During the daytime the area attracts hundreds of people, being the travellers, hawkers, students, small scale garage mechanics and operators of numerous food kiosks and low cost eating joints.
The trucks passing day and night include those ferrying petrol, diesel and other petroleum products to up country stations as well as to the neighbouring land-locked countries, making the spot a beehive of activity of some sort.
Lameck Burton Ilani, 27, is one of those admitted and who looked certain he was out of danger. He is a truck driver from Rwanda, who was heading to Dar es Salaam at the time of the disaster.
“I had parked my truck to find out what was happening. Before I was near to the spot, somebody came running towards me burning with fire.
“To save myself, I removed all my clothes and ran to safety. I appreciate we have been treated well”, he observed, noting that many people in East Africa were yet to realize the dangers associated with the leaking petrol.
The surgeon with the Morogoro regional hospital, Dr Francis Semwene, said the 17 people at the hospital had injuries on their legs and that they included two women.
“They have different levels of injuries and recovery but are generally out of danger”, he said, noting that many of them would have to remain in hospital for sometime for specialized treatment.
He said the patients who remained at the Morogoro hospital were those who had less than 35 per cent burns. Those with fire burns above 40 per cent were referred to Muhimbili”, he told The Citizen.