More than 40 people were feared dead when a tanker truck exploded after crashing in central Liberia, the country’s chief medical officer told local media on Wednesday.

The tanker carrying gasoline crashed and tipped into a ditch along a road in Totota, about 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the capital Monrovia.

Dr Francis Kateh told local broadcaster Super Bongese TV it was difficult to determine the number of victims because some had been reduced to ashes but he estimated that more than 40 people were killed in the incident.

“We have our team going from home to home to check those that are missing,” he told AFP.

Police earlier put the death toll at 15 and said at least 30 people were injured as locals gathered at the scene.

“There were lots of people that got burned,” said Prince B. Mulbah, deputy inspector general for the Liberia National Police.

Another police officer, Malvin Sackor, said that after the crash, some locals had begun to take the leaking gas when the tanker exploded, killing some and wounding others.

He said that the police were still gathering the total number of injured and killed.

An eyewitness from Totota, Aaron Massaquoi, told AFP that “people climbed all on top of the truck taking the gas, while some of them had irons hitting the tanker for it to burst for them to get gas.”

“People were all around the truck and the driver of the truck told them that the gas that was spilling they could take that,” Massaquoi said.

“He told them not to climb on top of the tanker and that they should stop hitting the tanker…. but some people were even using screwdrivers to put holes on the tank.”

Punch / Titilayo Kupoliyi

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