3 Jul 2010

Fuel tanker blast kills 220 in Congo

More than 220 people have died after a fuel tanker lorry exploded in DR Congo. Doctors Without Borders is on the scene co-ordinating a rescue operation for “severely burnt” victims.

The explosion, late on Friday night, has injured a further 111 people.

The lorry overturned just outside the town of Sange in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, between Bukavu and Uvira, unleashing a fire ball which tore through the village.

Local officials said the death toll could rise and described scenes of devastation. Some people died while trying to steal fuel leaking from the tanker, but most people were killed in their homes and the town’s cinema, where they were believed to be watching the World Cup game between the last African team in the contest, Ghana, and Uruguay.

United Nations helicopters are airlifting people to hospital, and Congo’s army is also sending in soldiers to help with the rescue.

A UN spokesman said: “The death toll is not final, but the latest we have is 220 dead and 111 wounded.”

Local people suggested that the truck stopped when the road seemed to crumble.

Jean-Claude Kibala, South Kivu’s vice governor, said: “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. We are trying to see how we can coordinate to manage the situation and how to take the wounded to hospital.”

There have been numerous similar accidents across Africa, where crowds gather outside crashed tankers, which then explode. Roads in Congo are notoriously bad after years of war and neglect.

“Some people were killed trying to steal the fuel, but most of the deaths were of people who were indoors watching the match,” Marcellin Cisambo, governor of South Kivu province, said.

Grace Tang of Doctors Without Borders told Channel 4 News: “We heard last night of the incident with the tanker explosion and over 200 people being killed.

“Now we are on one of the evacuations, where we are sending people by helicopter, the wounded. We are transferring them now to two hospitals in Bukavu, the capital.

“There are severely burnt victims of all ages. We’re just trying to deal with the medical components and reacting and co-ordinating with other organisations. It’s all burns so they’re going to need a lot of antibiotics and a lot of fluid.

“Everybody’s reacting quite quickly and we’re able to get the wounded out. In terms of having the medical supplies, everybody is on standby to be able to respond.”

An appalling accident in the Democratic Republic of Congo

It seems a fuel tanker was either leaking or actually overturned and a large crowd gathered to steal the resulting fuel, writes Alex Thomson, Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent.

Inevitably, there was a spark and the spilled fuel, by now over a retatively wide area, ignited, blowing up the tanker too in a vast fireball. At least 200 people have been killed and I've been speaking to the Medecins Sans Frontieres officials charged with co-ordinating the rescue effort for scores of people who have survived, but are suffering the most terrible burns.

Not the first time of course that incidents like this have happened in poor communities in west Africa.