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Africa

Accra hit by tragic fire amid flooding

An estimated 150 people were killed by a fire at a gas station where people had taken shelter from heavy rains. Amid the mourning, authorities are trying to prevent further damage by the floods.

An explosion at a gas station in Ghana's capital of Accra and flooding caused by heavy rains killed an estimated 150 people, Ghanian President John Mahama said Thursday.

The Red Cross and emergency services retrieved dozens bodies from the gas station in central Accra where the fire broke out at about 10 p.m. on Wednesday night (03.06.2015).

"This loss of life is catastrophic and almost unprecedented," Ghana's President John Dramani Mahama said while visiting the scene of the blast. "A lot of people have lost their lives and I am lost for words." The president offered his condolences to the families of those who died in the disaster. He also thanked the rescue workers who had been working through the night.

Residents distraught

Amid the chaos and ongoing rescue work, eyewitnesses told DW how they saw the fire engulfed the gas station and a store nearby. "Anybody the fire met on its way was burnt," one local resident said.

Ghana Explosion in Accra (Bürgermeister Alfred Oko Vanderpuije)

The exact cause of the fire is still unknown.

The blaze came as Accra was struggling with floodwater and torrential rains. A young mother told DW how her two-year-old daughter was washed away by the floods. "What has the baby done? She is just two years. I am in a state of shock, why should this happen to me?" Another man explained how he had left his minibus and later saw it and the people inside it being consumed by the flames.

Ghana's health minister Alex Segbefia warned of further risks by the floods, such as a possible cholera outbreak. "Let's not be caught in the same way that we were in the past," he said.

Communications minister Edward Omane Boamah said the police, the fire brigade and the National Disaster Management Organisation were doing their best to help people affected by the floods, but he also advised residents to stay on high ground and “avoid fast-moving rainwater and areas they know have big drains”.

Accra prone to floods

Ghana's capital and its surroundings are often hit by heavy rain and flooding in June and July. In the past the rainfall has affected the city's roads, the drainage system as well as businesses and residential buildings. Over the past two days, many residents were unable to go to work or to return home. Some areas were cut off from the power grid, as electricity stations were affected by the flooding.

Mayor Alfred Oko Vanderpuije talks to rescue workers.

Accra's mayor Alfred Oko Vanderpuije visiting the scene of the fire.

Accra's mayor, Alfred Oko Vanderpuije says the city is trying to contain the problems caused by the flooding. He told DW that city authorities had been emptying drains for the past month to stop them from overflowing. The heavy rains in the last three days had, however, been too much for them to handle.

"The rains come as usual, but there is the need for us to build structures to bring about permanent solutions and controls on the ground," Vanderpuije told DW. "We have a proposal to construct permanent drains to carry the volumes of water that we got in the last three days. But we also have plans to build water retention reservoirs to ensure that when it rains, we can control the amount of water that runs into the capital city form the mountain areas." He says that he signed a deal for a loan for a drainage and sanitation project in 2013, but that the funds had not yet been released.

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