Over 220 people died and almost 200 were injured when an oil tanker truck overturned and exploded in a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday. Witnesses reported that many were killed when they tried to siphon up the spilled fuel. James Reynolds of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Congo, said: “Many of the bodies were burnt far beyond recognition. It’s a terrible scene,” and a tragedy, he added, “for people who didn’t have very much to begin with.” It’s estimated that over a quarter of the victims were children.
The tanker overturned and the leaking fuel caught fire; the inferno raced through the village and engulfed makeshift theaters where many had gathered to watch the World Cup. The driver was injured but survived the accident.
Local hospitals were quickly overcome by many of the survivors with terrible burn injuries. In this report from the accident and explosion, a UN spokesman acknowledged of the wounded evacuees “We are doing our best…unfortunately there is no burn unit” anywhere near the village.
Bad roads, crowded villages and extreme poverty combine to deadly effect; while the scale of this accident was particularly horrific, similar incidents occur all too frequently as desperately poor people ignore the danger in order to gather fuel in flimsy plastic containers. Last Friday 13 people were killed in a similar accident with a tanker truck in Nigeria. A blaze from a fuel spill killed 70 people in Nigeria last October. In October 1998, a pipeline explosion killed over 1,000 people in southeastern Nigeria’ as people tried to steal oil. Three similar accidents in Nigeria In 2000 and 2006 killed a total of nearly 600 people.
Bodies from Congo oil tanker disaster
Image: Al Jazeera English footage via Youtube