Last updated: 25 October, 2011

Fuel depot blast kills 100 in Libya’s Sirte

A fuel tank exploded near Moamer Kadhafi’s hometown Sirte killing more than 100 people, less than a week after he was captured and killed in the Libyan city, a military chief said Tuesday.

“There was an enormous explosion and a huge fire. More than 100 people were killed and 50 others wounded” in Monday’s blast, a National Transitional Council (NTC) commander, Leith Mohammed, told AFP.

He said the scene was “a heart wrenching spectacle with dozens of charred bodies.”

“We are still unable to put out the fire,” caused by a spark from a nearby electricity generator, said Mohammed.

The accidental explosion came as a crowd of people waited near the fuel tank to fill up their cars.

An AFP correspondent said the tragedy took place near Sirte airport, some 30 kilometres (18 miles) south of the Mediterranean city, hometown and last bastion of Libya’s slain veteran leader Kadhafi.

A radio station and two large fuel reservoirs stand nearby, said the correspondent, who saw at least 29 vehicles blackened by huge flames that shot into the sky, burnt shoes, melted plastic jerrycans and shreds of clothing.

“The explosion happened yesterday (Monday) at around noon,” said Ali Faraj who helped evacuate the wounded. “It was very strong. I live 25 kilometres away and I heard it.”

Faraj angrily complained that no ambulances were available to ferry the wounded to hospital.

“There were no ambulances for the wounded, no trucks for the firefighters, and we couldn’t put out the fire … because the revolutionaries (new regime fighters) stole all the vehicles,” he said.

Omran Ajelli, a doctor at Ibn Sina hospital in Sirte, said he treated 26 people, five of them “in critical state” with severe burns, and three bodies were brought in, with the other casualties apparently taken elsewhere.

The five critical wounded “should be transferred to Tripoli for treatment but we have no cars, we have nothing here” to transport them, he said. “I am desperate.”

Three doctors only still work at Ibn Sina but there are no nurses to look after hundreds of patients, wounded in fighting, and the hospital is in dire need of medicine, Ajelli said.

Some residents have returned to the town, the last bastion of resistance by Kadhafi loyalists, which fell last Thursday, to inspect damage to their properties, the NTC commander added.

No building was spared in the weeks of fierce combat backed by daily NATO air strikes that reduced the Mediterranean city to rubble, a ghost town filled with the stench of death, where bodies still littered the streets on Monday.

Some of Sirte’s residents, who numbered 120,000 before the conflict, have returned to salvage the remains of their personal belongings. But few are expected to stay.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch raised concern about the vast stockpiles of unguarded weapons around the city and called on the NTC to secure these sites to prevent further looting.

The UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya, Georg Charpentier, was in Sirte on Tuesday ahead of missions of assess humanitarian aid for the city and for Bani Walid, another of the last pro-Kadhafi holdouts, his office said.