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GeneralLiberia news

Totota struggles with stigma following tanker tragedy 

By Joseph Titus Yekeryan  

The December 26, 2023, devastating explosion of a tanker in the lower Bong County city of Totota has unleashed a profound psychological impact on the residents.

They are grappling with grief and emotional trauma in the aftermath of the tragedy as the death toll surpasses 100.

The community finds itself burdened not only by the weight of loss but also by accusations they term as baseless from outsiders, who claim that the victims died because they were allegedly stealing gas—a stigmatizing narrative that further compounds the residents’ psychological distress.

The incident which occurred on December 26, 2023, just after the celebration of Christmas, rocked the city, engulfing the vicinity in a blaze of flames. 

Some residents were seen with empty containers and buckets collecting gas from the tanker which accidentally fell about three hours before it exploded.

However, the loss of lives has left families shattered while subjecting the community to unwarranted criticism and claims.

External sources have propagated the narrative that the victims were involved in gas theft—a habit allegedly attributed to residents who allegedly exploit accident victims along the route. 

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These allegations have sparked outrage within the community, intensifying their grief and amplifying the psychological burden they bear.

Patience Sinyea, one of the Survivors said not everyone who went there had the intention of taking gas.

“We are not criminals, we do not take advantage of accident situations, so all those who are spreading lies about us should stop,” she said.

“For me, I was standing and watching from a little distance that is the reason I even survived,” she said.

Adolphus Joe, a local community leader, expressed deep frustration, stating, “They keep making us shame, everywhere I go, I keep hearing these things about us.”

“We deserve respect and an end to these lies. I agree that there were some people taking gas from the tanker, but it was because of the leakage. When it started leaking,” he concluded.

Alexander Flomo, a graduate of Cuttington University whose brother died in the explosion said, “We are shattered by the loss of our loved ones, and instead of finding solace and support, we are subjected to unfounded accusations and scorn.”

“It feels like salt on our wounds, making it even harder to cope with the pain,” he continued.

In response to the profound psychological impact on the residents, local authorities have swiftly initiated essential support measures. 

Counseling services, helplines, and support groups have been established to assist survivors in navigating their grief and trauma. 

As the healing process unfolds, leading human rights defender, Jessic B. Cole said society must rally together, providing empathy, understanding, and unwavering support to the affected residents. 

He said by fostering a sense of collective healing, dispelling stigma, and nurturing resilience within Totota, it is hoped that the profound psychological impact can be gradually overcome. 

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