230 killed as petrol tanker explodes in eastern Congo


KINSHASA – At least 230 people were killed when a fuel tanker overturned and exploded in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, unleashing a fireball that tore through homes and makeshift cinemas packed with people watching World Cup soccer.

Officials said the explosion on Friday evening also injured 196 people, adding that the death toll could still rise.

They described scenes of devastation in the town of Sange, where houses were burnt and bodies littered streets. Some people died while trying to steal fuel leaking from the tanker, but most were killed at home or watching World Cup soccer in flimsy cinemas.

Many of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.

UN helicopters began airlifting the injured to hospital, while Congo’s army, which lost a number of men in the blast, has sent soldiers in to help with the rescue. “Our latest numbers are 230 dead and 196 injured,” Madnodje Mounoubai, a spokesman for the UN mission, said. Congo’s government gave the same number of dead.

Marcellin Cisambo, governor of South Kivu province, where the blast took place, said it happened after the fuel truck overturned, leaked fuel and later exploded.

It was not immediately clear what caused the overturning or explosion, but local people said the truck, part of a convoy, stopped when the road seemed to crumble, toppling the vehicle and causing fuel to spill.

“It’s a terrible scene. There are lots of dead bodies on the streets. The population is in terrible shock – no one is crying or speaking,” said Jean-Claude Kibala, South Kivu’s vice governor, in Sange.

“We are trying to see how we can co-ordinate with [the UN] to manage the situation and how to take the wounded to hospital.”

Roads in the area are notoriously bad after years of war and neglect in the vast central African state.

“Some people were killed trying to steal the fuel, but most of the deaths were of people who were indoors watching [the World Cup],” Mr Cisambo said.

There have been numerous similar incidents across Africa, where crowds gather around fuel tankers involved in crashes, before they explode.

At the time of the latest disaster on Friday evening, millions of football fans across Africa were watching Ghana, the continent’s last team in the World Cup, play Uruguay in the quarter finals of the tournament.

“My children were watching the football match in the cinema and then they ran out to see the petrol,” said Kiza Ruvinira, who lost three children and his sister-in- law. “I went out to see what happened and I found my three children’s bodies myself. I don’t know how to go on.”

Mubaya Mumasura lost three family members. “I don’t know what to do with myself – I am so sad. I want the government to assist all the victims and help us.”

Congo’s weak government has difficulty providing even the most basic services. International Committee of the Red Cross co-ordinator Inah Kaloga said aid workers were trying to identify bodies before they were buried.

Police are holding the Kenyan driver of the truck. – (Reuters)