At least 50 people were feared dead in an explosion in Ghana on Thursday, after a mining truck reportedly carrying explosives collided with a motorcycle, setting off a blast that reduced structures to rubble and left a gaping crater in the earth.
The exact death toll from the accident in the small town of Apiate, in southwestern Ghana, is not yet known. Ghana’s police service said investigations were underway and appealed to residents of nearby towns to open their churches and classrooms to the wounded.
The truck had been moving between the gold mines of Tarkwa and Chirano, the police said in a statement, adding that most of the victims had been hospitalized in the nearby town of Bogoso.
Wood, rubble and metal roof sheets littered the scene in videos and pictures taken shortly after the explosion, which appeared to have leveled much of the town. Electricity lines dangled, and smoke rose from small fires dotted throughout an apocalyptic landscape. People who had heard the blast but were not hurt stood at the edge of a yawning hole left in the earth by the explosion.
Aaron Awusu, a resident of Apiate, said that the truck ran over a motorcycle that had crossed its path, and the truck then caught fire. The drivers of both vehicles fled, he said, and tried to warn others to do the same, but some of them were filming it on their phones and they did not move.
Videos posted on social media appeared to show the truck in flames just before the explosion. People stood around watching, and at least a dozen men and women walked toward it, one carrying a baby on her hip.
Then, Mr. Awusu said, came the explosion.
“All of a sudden, the car exploded, destroying the whole Apiate village, killing almost everyone close to the car,” he said, referring to the mining truck. “The road and the car also were completely destroyed.”
Initial reports said that at least 50 people had died and another 50 were injured, Abdul Ganiyu Mohammed, the regional coordinator of the National Disaster Management Organization, told a Ghanaian radio station.
The Ghana Police Service, in a statement, described the truck as “a mining explosive vehicle.” Mr. Mohammed said it had been carrying dynamite.
Mr. Mohammed said the driver of the truck was not among the dead and had not been charged.
“The driver who was driving the vehicle was able to escape,” he said.
After a few hours, the armed forces ordered onlookers to leave the scene, fearing that there might be another explosion. Emergency services staff closed off the area to the public and were searching for victims in the rubble.
“Some of the people are buried,” said Mathew Ayeh, a resident of Apiate. “There are people beneath the debris.”
President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana offered his condolences to the families of those who had died in what he described as a “truly sad, unfortunate and tragic incident,” and said that emergency services staff were trying to contain the incident and bring “rapid relief” to the residents of the devastated town.
The government, he said in a statement, would “spare no effort to ensure a rapid return to a situation of normalcy for residents of Apiate.”
The explosion came less than three months after a similar tragedy in nearby Sierra Leone in which at least 98 people were killed when a fuel tanker exploded, a disaster that put the West African nation’s health system under severe strain.
Mining accidents are a recurring problem in Ghana, one of Africa’s largest gold producers. In 2019, 16 people were killed at a gold mining site in northern Ghana, and in April 2018, six people died after the roof of a tunnel collapsed at a mine operated by the U.S.-based mining firm Newmont.
Last year, three workers died in a mine collapse in southern Ghana. There have also been many fatal gold mining accidents in other countries in West Africa.