ACCRA, Ghana: At least 90 people were killed in a fire at a petrol station in Ghana’s capital, Accra, as they sought shelter from heavy rains that caused widespread flooding, emergency services said Thursday.
The fire broke out at the filling station in the Kwame Nkrumah Circle area of the city late on Wednesday night and is thought to have spread from a nearby residence.
Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama described the loss of life as “catastrophic and almost unprecedented”, as he toured the scene of the disaster on Thursday morning.
“A lot of people have lost their lives and I am lost for words,” he told reporters.
Mahama later announced that three days of national mourning would be held from Monday, with flags flying at half-mast, after rescue operations finished over the weekend.
National police spokesman Arthur Cephas told AFP that the death toll was “hovering around 90” but was expected to rise.
“The relevant agencies are doing the tally,” he said.
Rescue officials were working to clear the area and bodies were piled onto flatbed trucks, covered with tarpaulin sheets, as police in high-visibility vests stood guard at the scene.
Ghana National Fire Service spokesman Billy Anaglate said victims were still being discovered during the salvage operations, making an exact death toll difficult to establish.
Local hospitals said morgues were full and security officials also said the death toll was likely to rise, as fire investigators picked through the charred debris to determine what caused the inferno.
Dozens of motorcycles were seen burnt and the fire is also thought to have engulfed a bus full of passengers that was waiting on the forecourt, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
Local residents said many people had sought refuge under the filling station canopy from days of heavy rains that have engulfed Accra.
Floodwaters had reached knee level on the road beside the Ghana Oil Company (GOIL) petrol station before the fire, which caused an explosion at the pumps, according to eyewitnesses.