More than 70 people were killed in a fire at a petrol station in Ghana’s capital, Accra, as they sought shelter from heavy rains that caused widespread flooding, the police and Red Cross said Thursday.
“This loss of life is catastrophic and almost unprecedented,” a visibly shaken President John Dramani Mahama said as he toured the scene.
“A lot of people have lost their lives and I am lost for words.”
Communications minister Edward Omane Boamah described the situation as a “national emergency”.
A senior police officer said that “the fire service alone has retrieved about 73 bodies,” while Red Cross disaster management coordinator Francis Obeng put the death toll at “more than 70″.
Local hospitals said morgues were full, with the death toll likely to rise, according to security officials.
The fire broke out late on Wednesday night in the Kwame Nkrumah Circle area of central Accra and is thought to have spread from a nearby residence.
It was not immediately clear exactly how the victims died, with reports that some had drowned in flood waters caused by blocked roadside gutters and drains that overflowed because of the rains.
Mahama extended his condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones and said “precautionary measures” needed to be taken against flooding that hits the city every year.
At least two days of rains have caused chaos in Accra, leaving many suburbs submerged and people stranded.
Already sketchy power supplies had been cut to some communities as electricity sub-stations were submerged.
Boamah said the armed forces, police, fire and the National Disaster Management Organisation have been deployed to help those affected.
“The general public is kindly advised to avoid fast-moving rainwater and areas they know have big drains. Stay on higher ground, where necessary, to prevent loss of life,” he added.