Explosion at illegal fuel depot kills 35 people along Benin-Nigeria border

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No fewer than 35 people have lost their lives in a fire explosion at an illegal fuel depot located in the town of Seme-Podji near the Republic of Benin's border with Nigeria.

The Benin authorities said two of the victims of the explosion included two babies.

The incident occurred on Saturday, September 23, 2023, when the warehouse used for smuggled fuel exploded into flames, sending a black cloud of smoke into the sky, according to eyewitnesses.

Al Jazeera quoted a local resident who said cars, motorbikes and tricycle taxis used to patronise the affected facility to stock up on fuel.

"I am still in shock. We heard people screaming for help. But the intensity of the flames was too much for people to try to approach," said Innocent Sidokpohou, a local carpenter.

"I got gas for my motorbike to go do my shopping. I left and barely five meters away I heard an explosion. When I turned around it was all black smoke," he added.

Meanwhile, Benin's Interior Minister Alassane Seidou, who confirmed the incident on Saturday, refused to give details about exactly how it had happened.

The minister, however, said two of the victims were babies, while 20 people who sustained injuries from the blast were being treated in hospital, with some in serious condition.

Seidou also blamed the cause of the fire on "smuggled fuel," adding that the blaze left the victim's bodies "badly charred."

For his part, Prosecutor Abdoubaki Adam-Bongle, in a statement, said, "The fire burned down the store and according to an initial assessment resulted in 35 deaths including one child.

"According to the witnesses interviewed, the fire was probably started during the unloading of bags of gasoline."

The Nigerian-Benin border is notorious for fuel smuggling activities due to low-cost subsidised petroleum products that leave the Nigerian end.

The border towns are lined with illegal refineries, fuel dumps and pipelines, with the Nigerian authorities struggling to curtail the perpetrators.


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