Thirteen people have been killed and 178 others injured after a powerful explosion and fire at the main fuel depot in Guinea rocked the centre of the capital Conakry early on Monday, bringing it to a standstill and causing substantial damage.
Schools were closed and workers told to stay at home as thick black smoke filled the sky. Residents fled the area where the blast occurred, images on social networks showed.
The incident happened at around midnight (0000 GMT) at the state oil company’s main depot in the Kaloum district of Conakry, near the port.
“The provisional midday assessment is that 13 bodies have been brought to health facilities and 178 injured of Guinean and foreign nationalities”, the government said in a statement.
After receiving care, 89 of the injured have been able to go home, it added.
Operational technical director for civil protection Jean Traore earlier said the toll was 11 dead and 88 seriously injured, during a meeting with the foreign minister and ambassadors.
“Dozens of injured people are arriving at two of Conakry’s main hospitals — Ignace Deen and Donka,” Mamadouba Sylla, a surgeon at Donka hospital, had told AFP shortly after the incident happened.
The head of the ruling junta, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya who seized power after a 2021 coup, called for “solidarity and prayer for the nation in this difficult time” while the results of an investigation ordered by the government are awaited.
The government announced that schools were closed and urged workers to stay at home in Conakry and its surrounding area.
“It was a deafening noise that woke us up,” a resident told AFP.
“The windows of our home and those of our neighbours were smashed. We managed to get away from the place,” he added.
Dansa Kourouma, head of the National Transitional Council (CNT) — the parliament appointed by the ruling military junta — said the fire had caused “extensive damage including loss of human life”.
– Crisis unit –
The fire has been contained and efforts were under way to completely extinguish it, the government said in the afternoon.
Dozens of civil protection vehicles and water company trucks were at the site, an AFP journalist saw.
Security forces have blocked off the port district and a strong smell of burnt fuel hung in the air.
A crisis unit coordinated by Security Minister Bachir Diallo has been set up.
A health emergency plan is also in place to support the injured, the information ministry said.
Emergency rescue personnel from abroad, notably neighbouring countries Senegal and Mali, are to arrive soon, Diallo said.
The European Union and the United States have expressed their solidarity.
Service stations are temporarily closed across the country.
An evacuation point for people living nearby has also been established at the parliament building, the government said.
– ‘Thrown to ground’ –
“We heard a loud bang which threw us to the ground without understanding what was happening,” local resident Marietou Camara told AFP.
“We prayed, hoping for God’s favour. Others didn’t try to understand, opting to head for the suburbs,” she added.
The normally lively port district was quiet Monday, with some locals having hurriedly left the central area during the night and others staying indoors.
The cause of the fire was unclear, officials said, and its “scale and consequences could have a direct impact on the population”.
Guinea has been ruled since September 2021 by a junta led by Doumbouya, who stormed the presidential palace with soldiers and overthrew civilian president Alpha Conde.
Conde was Guinea’s first democratically elected president and took office in 2010 after decades of authoritarian rule.
Doumbouya has promised to hand the reins of government back to elected civilians by January 2026.