“It was a painful experience but at the end of the day, I appreciated how fragile life is. One minute you are alive, but the very next minute you can be dead,” said Tela Magondyo, one of the survivors of the Sunningdale petrol explosion, who is nursing 60% burns at Harare Central Hospital.
Magondyo survived the Saturday horror inferno that claimed the lives of at least three people and injured at least 13 others. Police suspect several more people could have been incinerated as there are families in the neighbourhood of Sunningdale that have reported missing relatives.
Most of those hospitalised at Harare Hospital’s Burns Unit sustained more than 40% burns.
“I was very unfortunate to be caught up in the explosion because I was driving from Mbare to Mainway Meadows when I noticed a fuel tanker had overturned near Sunningdale 1 turnoff. People were collecting fuel from the tanker in drums, but I immediately sensed danger and told my friend that we should make a U-turn, because there could be an explosion,” he said.
“When we stopped the car, those behind us got impatient and started hooting, but we could not turn because there were vehicles in the other lane. Before we could drive off, there was a huge explosion, which lit up the entire Sunningdale as balls of fire went up into the sky.
“I told my friend that we had to get out of the vehicle and run because there was a risk our vehicle would catch fire. As we were running, a ball of fire landed on me and my clothes caught fire. I couldn’t even remove my clothes and all I could do was to run while I was burning.
“I ran until I fell down, only to be saved by some onlookers who threw me over a precast wall, and put out the fire. My whole body, except my head and face was burnt, but surprisingly my friend was not burnt at all and the car we left behind was also not burnt,” he said with a chuckle.
Another survivor, Collin Mutevera, (29) (pictured) who stays at a house opposite the scene of the accident, said he was standing near the gate of his home watching people who were collecting fuel when the explosion occurred.
He said some people had filled several buckets by the time the explosion took place.
“I had no chance to run,” he said.
“I was some distance away, but a ball of fire came in my direction, and all I could do was watch in amazement. I later ran into the yard with my clothes on fire and I managed to extinguish the fire with water.
“But the fire was so huge and was spreading so fast that most people failed to escape. Some people were unfortunate to run in the direction the wind was blowing and they were burnt. Those who ran in the direction where the petrol had flowed, were also not spared.”
The only female patient hospitalised at the institution said she and her friends had gone to see what was happening out of curiosity. She and her baby, who was strapped on her back, were the only ones who were burnt out of the group.
“I was on my way back home when the explosion occurred, and I would have made it had it not been that one of the guys who were collecting fuel, caught fire and bumped into me while I was running away,” she said.
“When he bumped into me, I immediately caught fire and also lost balance and fell. I was burnt on my face, legs and hands and my child was burnt on the leg. Out of our group, I was the only unfortunate one.”
The victims said they were rushed to Avenues Clinic, but authorities there refused to admit them after which they were sent to Parirenyatwa Hospital, where they were also turned away.
Authorities at Parirenyatwa reportedly said the burns unit could only accommodate five people and was full.
Harare Hospital’s principal nursing officer, Matron Lucia Godzongere, said most of the victims were extensively burnt and required great care.
“One patient has 76% burns and the one with the least has 20%. Most of the patients have over 40% burns,” she said.