Congo oil explosion: Death toll reaches over 235

Red Cross teams have buried some of the charred bodies in two mass graves.

Kinshasa: Red Cross teams on Saturday buried the charred bodies of some of the scores of people killed in a fuel truck explosion in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At least 235 people were killed when a fuel tanker overturned and exploded in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, unleashing a fire ball that tore through homes and cinemas packed with people watching World Cup soccer.

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

They described scenes of devastation in the town of Sange, where houses were burned and bodies littered the 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 cinemas.
Many of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.

Red Cross teams carried the charred bodies from the scene in body bags and buried them in two mass graves a few miles (kilometres) away.

United Nations helicopters began airlifting injured people 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 235 dead and 196 injured," Madnodje Mounoubai, a spokesman for the UN mission, said. Congo`s government also gave the same number of dead.

Marcellin Cisambo, governor of South Kivu province, where the incident took place, said the blast occurred when the fuel truck overturned, leaked fuel and then later exploded.

It was not immediately clear what caused the initial accident or later blast, but local people said the truck, which was part of a convoy, stopped when the road seemed to crumble, toppling the vehicle and spilling fuel. Fire then erupted.

"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," Jean-Claude Kibala, South Kivu`s vice governor, said from Sange, which is between the towns of Bukavu and Uvira.

"We are trying to see how we can coordinate with (the UN) to manage the situation and how to take the wounded to hospital," he added.

Tanker accidents

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

"Some people were killed trying to steal the fuel, but most of the deaths were of people who were indoors watching the (World Cup) match," Cisambo said.

There have been numerous similar accidents across Africa, where crowds gather around fuel tankers involved in crashes, only for the tanker to explode.

Millions of football fans across Africa were watching Ghana, the continent`s last team in the World Cup, play Uruguay in the quarterfinals of the tournament on Friday evening.

For many, who have no electricity at home, makeshift cinema halls are the only option for watching the football.

Congo`s weak government has difficulty providing even the most basic services, so UN peacekeepers began airlifting some of the wounded to nearby hospitals and aid workers were called in to help with medical treatment.

"The national Red Cross is working on collecting the bodies and taking them to the morgue, but the priority is obviously to take the wounded to the hospital," International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) coordinator Inah Kaloga said.

Kaloga said aid workers were trying to identify bodies before they were buried, but many were completely charred.

The Kenyan driver of the truck is being held by the police.

Alain Ilunga, deputy CEO of Congo`s storage and distribution company, which is already investigating the incident, said the truck was carrying 49,000 litres of petrol at the time.

Bureau Report

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