Floods in Accra, Ghana lead to explosion that kills hundreds

On June 3, an explosion rocked a busy suburb in Accra, the capital of Ghana and an area where Guilford College hosts a study abroad program.

Officials still do not know how many people died because bodies were burned beyond recognition and many were washed out to sea. Rough estimates conclude that between 150 and 200 people were killed.

“When flooding comes, it destroys property, and we also lose lives,” Gladys Feddy, a Ghanaian professor at the University of Cape Coast, told The Guilfordian.

It all began with torrential downpours, which are common in Accra this time of year. Residents caught in the storm were seeking shelter and congregated underneath the awning of a nearby petrol station or hid in their cars.

“The flooding caused the diesel and petrol to flow away from the station, and fire from a nearby house led to the explosion,” said Billy Anaglate, spokesman for the Ghana National Fire and Rescue Service, according to The Guardian.

Most of the victims were low-wage workers making their way home through the crowded streets and the heavy rains. Late Wednesday night, witnesses claimed to have heard a popping noise, and suddenly fire consumed the station, killing all inside.

The following morning, rescue workers converged on the scene, providing relief supplies to those affected. A three-day period of national mourning followed the incident.

As the nation’s capital, Accra is a densely populated area of over 2.27 million people.  The annual flooding alongside the congestion of this particular area of town created “a perfect storm,” according to Daniel Diaz, interim director of Guilford’s study abroad program.

“Human interaction is done in a close and very personal way, so you have a lot of people together …looking to get out of the rain,” said Diaz. “Whether that rainfall was to blame, the fuels were already there.”

It seems this tragic story would have made headlines in the U.S. media, but very few non-European news sources reported this story.

Since Guilford hosts a study abroad program in Accra, Ghana, these recent disasters, paired with last year’s Ebola scare, may cause students to grow concerned that studying abroad in Africa could be a liability.

After the Ebola epidemic caused panic in the United States, many schools, including the University of New England in Maine and the University of Illinois, suspended their study abroad programs in Ghana and Sierra Leone, according to the Boston Globe.

In fact, a recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll of New Jersey residents found that the more closely people followed the Ebola outbreak, the less they actually knew.

“The media is a very competitive business and there is a perception that by hyping up this threat of Ebola, you draw people’s attention,” said PBS science reporter Miles O’Brien in an interview with CNN.

In the face of such overwhelming interest in the African Ebola crisis, the question remains why the Accra flooding did not resonate highly in the U.S. media.

“It’s because America does not care about Africa,” said senior Risa Pine, who recently studied abroad in Accra.

Given the lack of interest in this event from U.S. sources, it is unlikely that many Guilford students will even be aware of it. But as study abroad opportunities begin this fall, the troubles of this African country may worry students about their safety abroad.

Feddy, however, doesn’t believe the floods should be an issue.

“This is not an everyday affair,” said Feddy. “The study abroad program even leaves Accra before the big rain starts.”

For interested students, Diaz ensures that the Study Abroad program is committed to sending students to safe, stable and friendly areas. The University of Cape Coast offers a wide array of opportunities for students interested in seeing a new part of their world.

For Pine, going to Ghana was one of the most important experiences in her life.

“I shouldn’t think that this should deter people from coming abroad to Ghana,” said Pine.