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Fuel Tanker Blast In Mozambique Kills Dozens Of People

An injured man is carried in a blanket in the town of Caphiridzange in Tete province, Mozambique.
An injured man is carried in a blanket in the town of Caphiridzange in Tete province, Mozambique.

A fuel tanker exploded in Mozambique's northern Tete province, killing dozens of people and injuring more than 100 others.

The government has declared a mourning period of three days and launched an investigation into what caused the blast Thursday, according to Radio Moçambique.

The exact tolls of dead and wounded weren't immediately clear. The local broadcaster, quoting a government statement, said at least 56 people died and 36 of those wounded were in serious condition. However, Reuters reported that at least 73 were killed, also citing the government.

The government said it "deplores the loss of life ... and is currently providing the necessary assistance in order to save lives and to comfort the victims' families," according to the BBC.

"The truck was transporting fuel to Malawi from the port city of Beira and was near the border when the accident occurred," according to Reuters.

The circumstances of the tanker blast in the town of Caphiridzange also were murky. Radio Moçambique said local people were attempting to siphon fuel from the truck. However, The New York Times quoted provincial authorities as saying "the truck caught fire after being struck by lightning" and that the explosion "occurred after the driver had diverted from the main road to sell fuel to the villagers, a common though illegal practice."

Photos showed badly burned people being carried away for treatment. Radio Moçambique described dozens of charred bodies at the blast site. It adds that government officials believe the death toll could rise because burned people may have perished in the woods while trying to reach a nearby river.

Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the BBC, the government "recently increased the price of fuel in response to the fall of the local currency against the dollar."

Tete province "has recently become a battleground between government forces and rebels from the Renamo movement," the Times reports, and "has also been severely hit by a regionwide drought."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

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