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