200 killed in Congo explosion (Second Lead, changing dateline)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

NAIROBI/BUKAVU - At least 200 people, among them many children, died when a fuel tanker exploded in eastern Congo, local administrative officials reported Saturday.

The accident occurred late Friday in the village of Sange near the border with Burundi, the officials in the South Kivu provincial capital Bukavu said.

The truck was apparently travelling too fast and toppled over. Initially it did not explode, but then, as villagers were at the scene trying to siphon off petrol, the vehicle exploded, killing many in a fireball.

The tanker was surrounded by dozens of children carrying buckets and bottles for fuel, when it blew up. It remained unclear Saturday what prompted the blast.

As the petrol spread through the village, it set ablaze many houses in which people had gathered to watch Ghana play Uruguay in the football World Cup. The simple huts were alight in seconds, prompting a blaze which destroyed a large part of the village.

A UN spokesman said the death toll could be as high as 270. Troops from the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo (Monuc) had been helping in the rescue effort.

About 100 villagers survived the catastrophe, many with severe burn wounds.

EU president Herman Van Rompuy sent his condolences to the victims’ relatives in a statement issued in Brussels.

The accident had occurred just after the Democratic Republic of Congo had celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence, he said, adding the country had been plunged into a deep mourning.

The president of the European parliament, Jerzy Buzek, said a poor region of a developing country had been hit by a tragic and terrible accident. He was especially sad that the accident had caused the death of so many children, he said.

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