Eyewitness recounts the Morogoro fuel tanker disaster and its aftermath

Friday August 23 2019

 

By Zephania Ubwani @TheCitizenTz news@tz.nationmedia.com

Morogoro. The site is still ghostly with burnt out pieces of plastic pails, broken ceramic utensils, a charcoal stove, a sandal and blackened trees and branches.

But the disaster from the August 10 petrol tanker explosion at Msamvu in Morogoro, could have turned more catastrophic had it not been to its timing and warnings by an experienced mechanic.

Scores of the garage mechanics and food vendors operating in the vicinity survived, thanks to a timely red flag raised by a mechanic operating in the vicinity.

Mr Abraham Mlowe, an experienced mechanic, was not only among of the first people to reach the scene before it turned horrific, but the first to exit when he sensed danger.

“I was here when the tanker overturned, and we rushed to rescue four people trapped inside the vehicle, including two kids,” he told The Citizen at the now deserted spot which hosted several food kiosks.

He and several other mechanics struggled for some minutes to pull out the four using a chain that would dismantle the door on the side of the driver’s seat.

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He admitted their first attempts failed amid cries for help by those trapped inside. It was at that time, according to him, when two traffic police officers arrived at the scene.

Diesel was leaking from one of the lorry’s fuel tanks. Initially, he did not sense much danger, save for the lives of those trapped. But despite his good intentions, he knew that it was dangerous to stick around after the strong smell of petrol began wafting in the air.

“The moment I smelled petrol, I abandoned everything and ran away...nearly 200 metres from the tanker. I know how dangerous petrol is,” he said.

Incidentally, Mr Mlowe, who operates one of the roadside garages, exited the scene as more people were carrying plastic pails and other utensils to scoop the leaking petrol rushed in the opposite direction.

Those who rushed utensils to tap the petrol included men, women and children from the adjacent Sume neighbourhood in the expansive Mwembesongo ward.

He showed the spot where he pitched for 10 minutes as he pondered on the unfolding drama and a time bomb in the making. His fellow six garage youths also exited.

As he had feared, it did not take long before a calamity descended on the hapless people scooping petrol like a thunderstorm from the sky.

“There was a deafening bang. It was followed by flames leaping so high to darken the sky. I had sensed this would happen,” he said.

Unfortunately, according to him, the explosion took those struggling to get the fuel off guard.

Those near the overturned tanker could not escape as they were surrounded by the fierce flames.

Others received burns because scattered petrol droplets had filled the air but the safest were those who were some distance away.

Mr Mlowe stated that had police arrived early to stop people from accessing the site, the death toll could have been lower.

He added that the fire fighters from the Morogoro Municipal Council arrived at the scene late and could not do much to put off the fire.

The chairman of Sume neighbourhood Hamisi Totoro said contrary to earlier reports no food vendors operating in the vicinity died in the inferno.

“The accident happened much earlier in the day. Several eating joints had not started business,” he told The Citizen, saying 23 of the 100 people came from the same hamlet.