230 die after cigarette sparks tanker inferno
Scores of children are killed trying to collect leaking oil after crash
Published 04/07/2010 | 05:00
MORE than 230 people were killed when a fuel tanker overturned and ignited in the centre of a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
More than a quarter of the victims were children who had rushed to scoop up leaking oil after the crash.
A crowd of football fans, who had gathered at a bar to watch the Holland versus Brazil World Cup match, were closest to the explosion, which happened at around 6pm on Friday. Burning fuel flowed into dozens of mud-and-grass houses up to 100 metres away, setting fire to properties and trapping people inside.
Mende Omalanga, the minister of communications, said that the tanker had overturned as it was trying to overtake a bus on a dirt road through the village of Sange, in South Kivu province, 100km south of the city of Bukavu.
He said that the driver survived the accident, and that the initial spill was ignited by the cigarette of a man trying to salvage some of the fuel.
A number of the injured were being treated in surrounding villages, but most were sent to the nearby town of Uvira. The UN said that the fire was still burning yesterday afternoon and that the UN had provided ambulances and three helicopters to assist with rescue efforts.
Some 35 people had been airlifted to hospitals in Uvira and Bukavu. The UN said that 223 people had been killed and at least 110 injured.
"What is certain is that the toll will get higher," a spokesman said, adding that the search was continuing "for more charred bodies".
The truck, owned by a company called Ginki, had been delivering to the area from Tanzania. One police officer based in Bukavu claimed that the accident was caused by the tanker's "excessive speed". The officer, who asked not to be named, said the village was "in total mourning".
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is taking medicine and body bags to the village and preparing to fly the wounded to hospital. James Reynolds, deputy head of the ICRC in the area, said: "It is a small village. When the truck turned over, a lot of people gathered round. It then caught fire and spread through the village."
"The population is in terrible shock -- no one is crying or speaking," said Jean-Claude Kibala, the vice-governor of South Kivu.