Congo grieves, tends to survivors
SANGE, Congo — Dozens of moaning and badly burned survivors from a massive tanker blast that killed at least 231 people recovered in hospitals and clinics across eastern Congo yesterday, 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 shocking tragedy late Friday was a devastating blow for residents in a still lawless region who survived back-toback wars that lasted from 1996 to 2002.
“It’s a miserable, poor life we have here in Congo,’’ said Muke Ndengwa, whose 15-year-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.’’
The tanker was hauling fuel from the provincial capital, Bukavu, when it overturned as it tried to pass a minibus in Sange, a small village near the Burundi border. Tipped on its side, the wrecked vehicle began gushing gasoline beside three flimsy television 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 UN peacekeepers to move away because of the danger.
Within an hour, a fire started and a massive explosion suddenly engulfed the three TV halls and a market.
Jackson Ndengwa, 15, was inside one of the makeshift halls when the accident occurred.
“The hall was full of people,’’ he said from his hospital bed in the lakeside town of Uvira, about 20 miles to the south. “We never expected that there could be a fire like this.’’
Ndengwa managed to escape through a window, but sustained serious burns to his legs and stomach.
In the hospital’s intensive care ward yesterday, one badly burnt man screamed continually in agony as relatives tended to other victims nearby.
Madnodje Mounoubai, UN spokesman, said at least 231 died and 195 were injured in the explosion.