Congo proclaims mourn­ing pe­riod for 230 killed in blaze

Austin American-Statesman - - MONDAY BRIEFING - By Max De­lany

SANGE, Congo — Dozens of moan­ing and badly burned sur­vivors from a mas­sive tanker blast that killed at least 230 peo­ple were re­cov­er­ing in hos­pi­tals and clin­ics across east­ern Congo on Sun­day, two days af­ter the wrecked fuel truck ex­ploded on a ru­ral high­way.

Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila de­clared a two-day na­tional mourn­ing pe­riod, and Red Cross work­ers sprayed chlo­rine and poured dis­in­fec­tant pow­der over the black­ened scene of the ex­plo­sions in the vil­lage of Sange, where priests prayed dur­ing a brief me­mo­rial ser­vice on a bar­ren foot­ball field.

In a con­flict-strewn corner of one of the world’s most un­sta­ble coun­tries, the tragedy late Fri­day in Sange was a dev­as­tat­ing blow for res­i­dents who sur­vived back-to-back wars from 1996 to 2002.

“It’s a mis­er­able, poor life we have here in Congo,” said Muke Ndengwa, whose 15year-old son was nearly killed in the blast. “When we had the war here, we had ev­ery­thing stolen from us. Now we have lost so much again.”

Trou­bles be­gan when the tanker haul­ing fuel from the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, Bukavu, over­turned as it tried to pass a minibus in Sange, near the border with Bu­rundi. Tipped on its side, the wrecked ve­hi­cle be­gan gush­ing gaso­line be­side three flimsy TV halls made of brick and wood, where hun­dreds of peo­ple had gath­ered to watch the World Cup.

Crowds gath­ered around the wreck, and dozens of peo­ple be­gan try­ing to col­lect the leak­ing gaso­line with jerry-cans and plas­tic buck­ets, ig­nor­ing pleas from U.N. peace­keep­ers to move away be­cause of the dan­ger.

Within an hour, a fire started — no­body is sure how — and a mas­sive ex­plo­sion sud­denly en­gulfed the three TV halls and a nearby mar­ket.

Jack­son Ndengwa, 15, was in­side one of the makeshift halls to watch one of his fa­vorite teams, Ghana, play Uruguay.

“The hall was full of peo­ple,” he said from his hos­pi­tal bed in the lake­side town of Uvira, about 20 miles south. “We never ex­pected that there could be a fire like this.”

Burn vic­tims and their fam­i­lies also filled the small health clinic in Sange on Sun­day. “We are still in shock, and it’s too early to say how life can con­tinue here,” said Kahurwa Mu­gi­ri­giri, 68, who lost his wife and many relatives in the blast. “But we will never for­get what hap­pened.”

U.N. spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Sun­day that at least 231 died and 195 were in­jured in the ex­plo­sion. The Red Cross said at least 61 chil­dren and 36 women were among those killed.

Most of the dead were buried in two mass graves a few miles from Sange.

“We have de­cided to make mass graves be­cause most of the bod­ies are com­pletely burnt and are not iden­ti­fi­able, and also to pre­vent the corpses from de­com­pos­ing” in the trop­i­cal heat, deputy pro­vin­cial Gov. Jean-Claude Kibala Nkolde told U.N. Ra­dio Okapi.

Marc Hofer

A res­tau­rant is in­spected Satur­day, a day af­ter an oil tanker ex­ploded and killed at least 230 peo­ple in Sange, Congo.

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