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The death toll from a rebel-influenced explosion on a tanker truck in the country’s remote north has risen to 115, a government official has said.
Sierra Leone’s health minister, Dr Peter Massaquoi, said it was not clear what caused the blast, which destroyed more than 100 homes in Tonkolili township on Tuesday night.
The disaster was blamed on a gold export terminal run by BC Gold in the town about 15 miles (25km) south of the capital, Freetown.
BC Gold said all its sales on the night of the blast were legal.
Its operations have been beset by tensions. The Dutch mayor of Tonkolili complained recently that he had been given no information about new infrastructure projects such as a special boardwalk or eco-tourism after months of delays.
Massaquoi said it could take months to access the affected areas.
“We are moving now to conduct identification efforts, including to take to identify bodies that were washed into the Ejen river. We expect to get them out for proper identification within 24 hours,” he said.
A facility called, Star Gold, which is owned by BC Gold, is home to a gold refinery and a network of long-distance trucks, transporting the precious metal for export.
Regional hospitals have received more than 100 casualties, according to Kabba Kpakolu, a spokesman for the ministry of health. Some of those who have been discharged remain in the hospital, Kpakolu said.
“After the identification efforts, we expect to get them out in 24 hours for proper identification,” Massaquoi said.
Kpakolu said the initial toll from Tuesday’s explosion was around 40 people, but he later told Reuters that the number had risen to 115.
The dead included residents and security forces in Tonkolili.
The world has long questioned the future of BC Gold, whose biggest customer is Nigeria, home to some of Africa’s worst Ebola outbreaks. The company has not responded to a request for comment.