Sunday, July 04, 2010

Hundreds Die in DRC Tanker Fire

Sunday, July 04, 2010
00:59 Mecca time, 21:59 GMT

Hundreds die in DRC tanker fire

Tragedy strikes small village in eastern DR Congo when fuel tanker overturns and explodes

At least 220 people have been killed after a lorry carrying fuel overturned on a highway and leaked oil that triggered an explosion in a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, officials say.

As many residents of Sange crowded around the overturned vehicle on Friday, fire rapidly engulfed homes and cinemas packed with people watching a World Cup football match.

Among the dead were 61 children and 36 women, the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in South-Kivu province said.

Officials said the explosion injured 196 people in addition to inflicting deaths and material damage.

Among the dead were villagers who had surrounded the lorry to siphon off fuel from the wreckage, apparently unaware of the danger, according to officials of the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC, known as Monusco.

As oil began leaking from the damaged tanker, Pakistani peacekeepers from a nearby Monusco base "came and told people to get away from the area, but people refused to leave", Bedide Mwasha, a 45-year-old resident, said.

"Men, women and children, even [government] soldiers were stealing petrol."

UN helps evacuation

UN peacekeepers later helped evacuate more than 200 wounded people from the scene by helicopter and ambulance.

Red Cross teams, for their part, carried charred bodies from the scene in body bags and buried them on Saturday in two mass graves a few kilometres away.

The fuel tanker overturned as it was trying to pass a minibus near Sange, Mana Lungwe, a manager of the Congolese oil company that owned the vehicle, said.

Sange is located about 20-30km north of Uvira, a town on the northern tip of Lake Tanganyika, near the border with Burundi.

The tanker began gushing oil and, an hour later, burst into flames, Lungwe said.

The explosion claimed the lives of 208 people immediately, while 11 others died from burn wounds after they were taken to nearby medical facilities, James Reynolds, the deputy head of the ICRC in DRC, said.

He said alongside local volunteers of the organisation, the ICRC has dispatched medical supplies and body bags to collect the dead and help the wounded.

"We're doing our best to ensure that the wounded are treated as well as possible,'' he said.

Burnt to ashes

Later on Saturday, Al Jazeera's Malcolm Webb, reporting from Sange, said: "It is a large area of devastation. A [cinema] was crammed with people watching a World Cup match. The whole thing is now completely destroyed.
Africa's fuel curse

2006: A pipeline expodes near Lagos in Nigeria when it is opened to steal fuel, killing 284 people.

2006: A pipeline blast kills up to 200 people at Ilado Beach, a village near Lagos, Nigeria.

2000: A tanker bursts into flames on crashing in Nigeria, killing 200 people.

1998: More than 1,000 people die in an explosion near Warri in Nigeria when a pipeline valve is opened to steal fuel.

1998: Up to 220 people die and 63 are injured when two wagons explode following a train derailment in Cameroon's commercial capital, Yaounde.
"Behind it, another cinema and a couple of houses have been completely burnt to ashes."

"I am now two kilometres up the road from the scene where the UN and local Red Cross brought a lot of the bodies and are now burying them in mass graves.

"It was a big fuel tank with a very large amount of fuel. People were apparently trying to get some of the fuel.

"Fuel is a valuable commodity here.

"This is one of the poorest parts [of the DRC], so people scrambled to try and get some. And then, 20 minutes or so after the lorry tipped over, something triggered the explosion."

Madnodge Mounoubai, a Monusco spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that about 35 people were air-lifted to Bukavu, the provincial capital, for treatment.

Survivors "in the village need water, food and maybe psychological assistance", he said.

"Bukavu is about 100 kilometres from Sange while Uvira is about 33 kilometres.

"But in either place we don't have any special hospital to treat the injured.

"We are trying to get the best possible medical care that we can, but unfortunately there is no special unit for burned people."

Monusco initially said that five peacekeepers were killed in the blaze, but later said there were no deaths.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Fuel Tanker Explosion in South Kivu

Kinshasha - More than 200 people were killed and 100 injured when a
fuel tanker overturned and exploded in eastern Democratic Republic of
Congo late on Friday, a local governor said on Saturday.

Some died while trying to collect fuel leaking from the tanker, but
authorities said most were killed by the fire that tore through nearby
houses after the vehicle exploded.

United Nations helicopters began airlifting injured people to hospital.

"There was an accident when a truck overturned and petrol started
coming out on all sides ... More than 200 people have died so far and
about a hundred are injured - seriously burned," said Marcellin
Cisambo, governor of South Kivu province where the accident took

It was not immediately clear what caused the accident, which took
place in Sange, on the road between the provincial capital Bukavu and
Uvira, a town to the south on the border with Burundi.

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

"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, told Reuters by
telephone from Sange.

"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.

Witnesses said the explosion started a fire that tore through houses
near the road.

"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.

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.

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

"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," ICRC coordinator Inah Kaloga told Reuters."

Five UN peacekeepers were feared dead in the incident, but a
spokeswoman on Saturday corrected an earlier statement, saying none of the mission's soldiers had been killed. - Reuters

Published on the Web by IOL on 2010-07-03 12:11:58

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