Petrol tanker explosion kills hundreds in Congo

At least 230 people were killed
and more than 196 injured when a petrol tanker flipped over and exploded in
eastern Congo late on Friday night.

Some casualties were caught by
the explosion as they rushed to siphon leaking fuel from the vehicle, but most
died in their houses, as fire engulfed nearby buildings. The Red Cross said
that 61 of the dead were children, 36 were women, and that the toll was likely
to rise.

The tanker, carrying 49,000
litres of petrol, overturned at high speed near the village of Sange, 20 miles
north of the town of Uvira, near the border with Burundi. After the accident,
“people came out and tried to siphon the contents of the tanker”, said Madnodje
Mounoubai, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission, which sent troops to
help evacuate the area. “A fire started, and the people trying to siphon the
fuel were killed or injured.

He added that a dozen homes had
also been destroyed in the blaze. Most people in the area live in thatched huts
made of dried leaves and hardened mud. Many of the dead had been watching
Ghana’s World Cup quarter-final in makeshift cinemas when the explosion
happened.

Congo’s weak government has difficulty
providing even the most basic services, so UN peacekeepers airlifted at least
35 of the wounded to hospital in Bukavu, and others were taken to nearby
hospitals by ambulance.

Desire Yuma, a local Red Cross
official, said the organisation’s workers were still collecting charred bodies
from the scene. It was not clear what sparked the explosion, although residents
said someone collecting fuel may have lit a kerosene lamp as darkness fell.

Other officials, as well as the
UN-backed station Radio Okapi, reported that the truck had begun its journey in
Tanzania. Roads in the area are notoriously bad after years of war and neglect
in the vast central African nation.

Villagers across Africa, unable
to afford to buy fuel, frequently descend on damaged or disabled oil trucks to
collect their leaking cargo, carrying it away in plastic jugs. The worst
tragedies have occurred in Nigeria, where thousands have died as crowds have
been caught in explosions when they tried to siphon fuel from ruptured or
pierced oil pipelines.

The Red Cross said that 61 of
the dead were children, 36 were women, and that the toll was likely to rise.

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