More than 220 people were killed when a fuel tanker overturned and exploded in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, unleashing a fire ball that tore through a town where people were watching the World Cup on TV.
Officials said on Saturday the explosion late on Friday also injured 110 people, adding that the death toll could rise.
They described scenes of devastation in the town of Sange, where houses were burnt and bodies littered the streets. Some people died while trying to steal fuel leaking from the tanker, but most people were killed in their homes and a cinema.
Many of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.
United Nations helicopters began airlifting injured people to hospital, while Congo's army, which lost a number of men in the blast, has sent soldiers in to help with the rescue.
"The death toll is not final, but the latest we have is 220 dead and 111 wounded," said a spokesman for the U.N. mission.
Marcellin Cisambo, governor of South Kivu province, had earlier given a slightly lower toll. The blast occurred when the fuel truck overturned, leaked fuel and then exploded, he said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the accident, but local people said the truck, which was part of a convoy, stopped when the road seemed to crumble, toppling the vehicle and spilling fuel. Fire then erupted.
"It's a terrible scene. There are lots of dead bodies on the streets. The population is in terrible shock -- no one is crying or speaking," Jean-Claude Kibala, South Kivu's vice governor, said from Sange, which is between the towns of Bukavu and Uvira.
"We are trying to see how we can coordinate with (the U.N.) to manage the situation and how to take the wounded to hospital," he added.
Roads in the area are notoriously bad after years of war and neglect in the vast central African nation.
"Some people were killed trying to steal the fuel, but most of the deaths were of people who were indoors watching the (World Cup) match," Cisambo said.
There have been numerous similar accidents across Africa, where fuel crowds gather around fuel tankers involved in crashes, only for the tanker to explode.
Millions of football fans across Africa were watching Ghana, the continent's last team in the World Cup, play Uruguay in the quarterfinals of the tournament on Friday evening.
Congo's weak government has difficulty providing even the most basic services, so U.N. peacekeepers began airlifting some of the wounded to nearby hospitals and aid workers were called in to help with medical treatment.
"The national Red Cross is working on collecting the bodies and taking them to the morgue, but the priority is obviously to take the wounded to the hospital," International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) coordinator Inah Kaloga told Reuters."
Kaloga said aid workers were trying to identify bodies before they were buried, but many were completely charred.
"It's a catastrophe," said Captain Olivier Hamuli," spokesman for Congo's military operation in South Kivu, adding that 13 soldiers had been injured and another 10 were missing.
Alain Ilunga, deputy CEO of Congo's storage and distribution company, which is already investigating the incident, said the truck was carrying 49,000 litres of petrol at the time.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 04 Temmuz 2010, 11:53