Written by Staff Writer by Alexandria Kuperberg, CNN
At least 25 children and seven adults died Friday when an oil tank collapsed on a schoolyard in Niger, prompting widespread rioting in the city of Agadez, officials said.
Authorities said the tank — which was dumping fuel — suddenly collapsed on the packed school, trapping many of the children inside.
The incident came four months after a similar accident at an air base killed more than 60 people in Niger.
Rioters armed with sticks and stones have torched shops, cars and government buildings across the city, Reuters reported.
Local Governor Oumarou Badjou told reporters that at least 22 children, four adults and one firefighter were killed when the oil tank collapsed as students were playing at a school in an outlying neighborhood.
Video footage showed children screaming and digging frantically for survivors amid clouds of dust, rubble and body parts.
“My 3-year-old was crying with excitement because it was her birthday. She had gone with her schoolmates for the celebrations and after school the principal told them all to go back to class,” Saifou Ahmed, a survivor, told Reuters.
“The school was full of children but the kindergarten had been left outside because there was no electricity. My friend got trapped and then I escaped,” he said.
The accident was followed by rioting at the main city hospital and local government buildings where angry parents blamed the government and local administrators for the accident.
“The hospital was abandoned and there was no food for the patients. The atmosphere was absolutely terrible,” a nurse told Reuters.
Dozens of ambulances raced to the scene to evacuate the injured but firemen had to be called in to rescue scores of trapped children, Agadez Mayor Emile Mehamed Naibi told reporters.
At least 250 people have been evacuated from the debris, he said.
According to a preliminary report, the collapse happened at around 8 p.m. local time (1000 GMT), and children had started leaving the area immediately, the head of Niger’s National Fire Service, Faridou Sidiki, told a local radio station.
“We don’t know what caused the collapse. All the relevant teams have been sent to the scene to investigate. We have launched an investigation as we have lost lives. We are conducting our investigations by-standers to identify those who were there,” he said.
Witnesses said the tank appeared to be overloaded with fuel, which officials at the scene could not immediately confirm.
“I was just there, I heard the explosion and I lost consciousness,” one local resident told Reuters. “I came back after two hours and found my little girl dead,” he said.
Another local resident said that it was a slow burn, with the fire running “across the top of the crushed school. It was impossible to get to survivors or bodies within the time it took to secure the place.”
“It was a quick fire, I watched as the fireball exploded at my feet,” said schoolteacher Papa Koukoub, who was at the scene of the explosion. “I know the people, the fathers, and that is why I am afraid. Thank God nobody got killed. The emergency services came quickly.”
In a separate disaster on November 20 last year, a fire at an airport in the same city killed 60 people, mostly children.
It was the worst such incident in the West African nation in the last decade.
In the wake of the incident, authorities announced that the airport would be closed temporarily and said they would close the rail link between Agadez and the capital, Niamey.
At the time, local officials and survivors said a guard outside the fuel tank was hit by falling rocks during the fire.