Death toll from fatal Sierra Leone refinery explosion rises to 115

The death toll from a refinery explosion in Sierra Leone that destroyed dozens of homes has risen to 115, officials said Saturday. Many more people remain missing.

The National Disaster Management Office did not release a new figure for missing people as night fell. It was originally reported there were about 28 missing.

Derek Murray, a resident of a nearby neighborhood, told the Associated Press by phone Saturday that at least 28 people were still missing. He said dozens of people escaped the inferno that engulfed the district council building in Loi Island and nearby houses, many of them sleeping at the time.

Col. George Amofa, a spokesman for the military said no soldiers were among the dead.

Ben Wey, spokesman for the Department of State Disaster Risk Management, said government officials were still trying to determine what caused the explosion.

“It could have been a spark from a power line that arced onto a diesel tank. The blaze was quickly brought under control. But the smell of fire and the resulting emergency situation could hinder rescue efforts,” he said.

Vice President Daniel Kablan Duncan visited the site of the disaster, reportedly on his first visit to a single county since taking office in May.

Since then, he has visited six other counties.

He had been scheduled to visit Loi Island before his appointment as vice president was changed.

Weye Doema, a survivor who escaped unharmed, said most of the dead and missing were women and children.

“The place where we live is close to the refinery and we all made a lot of assumptions that it would be safer in that area compared to surrounding areas,” he said.

He said the gas had been stolen from the refinery and was illegally sold to the people who had gathered to discuss ways to improve the economy of the fishing village.

Information about what caused the tanker explosion was limited, but local officials in Loi Island said residents had been petitioning authorities for years about the presence of illegal bunkered gas.

On Friday night, four commercial planes were diverted from their flights in Sierra Leone because of the fumes.

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