The usually sleepy gated community of Elisenheim on the northern outskirts of Windhoek was greeted by a loud bang yesterday morning, when TransNamib fuel tanks derailed and exploded upon impact.
A cloud of thick smoke could be seen as far as Kleine Kuppe and it is alleged that the tanks were unmanned.
A TransNamib worker, who preferred anonymity, said the tanks, which were parked in a marshalling yard, started moving on their own after a vibration on the tracks. The worker said the wagon did not have its precautionary moving block in front of its wheels, causing it to run away.
The runaway wagon had nine tanks, seven of which were carrying jet fuel and two had diesel. All had a capacity of 40 000 litres.
The derailment caused several explosions, with raging flames reaching high into the skies.
TransNamib declined to comment on the specifics of the accident, saying that it was still investigating the incident.
There were no injuries or fatalities reported but extensive damage to the rails, tanks, WP Transport trucks and trailers as well as the fence occurred.
About 30 firefighters from all four of Windhoek’s fire stations, Namibian Marshall Rangers and Crises Response were promptly on the scene.
According to the deputy chief Kupaha Uazukuani from the fire brigade, their priority was to evacuate the area and allow the fire to burn itself out.
“Before we could do any physical firefighting, we had to let the fire die down,” said Uazukuani.
Choosing a defensive approach and saving on resources, the firefighters and responders made sure that the surrounding dry grass did not start any secondary fires and that surrounding properties were protected.
WP Transport was unfortunate in this regard, as a majority of the tanks derailed on their property.
Unable to give more information on the cause of the derailment, Uazukuani referred New Era to TransNamib when asked about the tanks being unmanned.
According to Sean Naude, a first responder, there was fear that oil tanks on the WP Transport premises could explode.
“I am not sure if I can talk to you,” said WP Transport staff member, Gerhard Beyleveld when approached for confirmation and comment.
Uazukuani said he was able to report that the fire was completely out and under control at around 15h00, after raging for about five hours.
“We are grateful there were no injuries or fatalities,” added Uazukuani.
TransNamib late yesterday said they have launched an investigation into the cause of the “rolling stock derailing yesterday” and were unable to give further comment at the moment.