KINSHASA (CONGO): A fuel tanker flipped over and exploded into flames in eastern Congo overnight, killing at least 220 villagers and wounding more than 100 who had rushed in to siphon leaking liquid from the vehicle illegally, the UN and local officials said on Saturday.
The truck was transporting fuel from neighbouring Tanzania when it overturned at high speed late Friday in the village of Sange, around 30 kilometres north of the town of Uvira near the Burundi border. Sange is located between Uvira and the Congolese provincial capital, Bukavu, further to the north.
After the accident, “people came out and tried to siphon the contents of the tanker,” said Mr Madnodje Mounoubai, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission, which has rushed troops to help evacuate survivors.
“A fire started, and the people trying to siphon the fuel were killed or injured,” Mr Mounoubai told The Associated Press. “Right now, we are talking about 220 dead and 111 wounded, but this is not the final toll. This is a very fluid situation.”
A UN helicopter has so far evacuated 35 wounded to Bukavu, Mr Mounoubai said. Other peacekeepers were taking more wounded to nearby hospitals by ambulance.
Mr Desire Yuma, a local Red Cross official in Bukavu, said Red Cross workers were still collecting charred bodies from the scene. The Red Cross says at 221 died and 214 were injured in the accident.
It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion. Desperately poor people across Africa often descend quickly around damaged or disabled oil trucks leaking fuel on roads and highways, carting it away with plastic jugs, unaware of the danger of doing so.
The worst tragedies have occurred in the West African nation of Nigeria, where thousands have died as crowds siphoned fuel illegally from ruptured or pierced oil pipelines that subsequently exploded.