Fuel shortages grip Conakry after deadly oil storage blast

By Saliou Samb

CONAKRY (Reuters) -Guineans should brace for power cuts, the government has warned, as the country grapples with the aftermath of a deadly explosion at an oil terminal in the capital Conakry that destroyed fuel tanks and forced hundreds to flee damaged homes.

Fourteen people were killed and 190 injured in the blast at the West African nation’s main oil terminal, which rocked the Kaloum district in downtown Conakry in the early hours of Monday.

The government said 13 fuel storage tanks were out of service while five tanks were unaffected.

“The government informs the population that due to the destroyed fuel stocks, the electricity supply may potentially be affected by outages,” it said late on Monday, adding that the fire was under control.

Most of Guinea’s power plants, particularly those supplying the capital, run on diesel fuel.

On Tuesday, a tall column of black smoke still billowed into the sky above the terminal and hours-long lines of cars and motorbikes formed at gas stations and clogged the streets of Conakry. The government had earlier ordered many to close to curb panic-buying.

“I’ve been here since 9 a.m. I thought I would get some fuel but I’m stuck here. They’re telling me fuel is out,” said driver Mohamed Cisse, sitting in his car.

The black market price of petrol has jumped 150% to 30,000 Guinean francs ($3.50) per litre compared with the pump price of 12,000 CFA francs, a Reuters reporter said.

The extent of the fallout from the blast is not yet clear or whether mining operations will be affected in the world’s second-largest producer of bauxite. Guinea is not an oil producer and relies on imports of refined products, which are mostly stored in the Kaloum terminal and distributed via trucks across the country.

Residents of districts near the depot described their panic when the shockwave ripped through the air, shattering windows in the middle of the night.

“We saw something in the sky, and suddenly a huge explosion that released unbearable heat. I immediately ran to avoid being hit by the objects zipping in all directions,” said security guard Sekou Sall in his neighbourhood, where some houses were reduced to rubble.

Sall said he had seen someone he knew weeping over the body of their twin brother, who was killed in the street by the flying debris.

Fear of further blasts or the risk of remaining in damaged buildings drove hundreds of people to seek safety elsewhere in the city.

Some cautiously returned on Monday afternoon to survey the damage and salvage some belongings.

Clutching a toddler with a bandaged head, grandmother Mariama Soumah said her family only had time to save themselves when their small house started to collapse around them when the blast hit.

“Suddenly we heard a loud explosion. If we hadn’t left in time, we would have died,” she said in Coronthie district, one of the capital’s poorest and worst-affected by the explosion.

($1 = 596.2500 CFA francs)

(Additional reporting by Souleymane CamaraWriting by Anait Miridzhanian and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Alison Williams, Alex Richardson and David Evans)