KILLER TRUCK INFERNO

SANGE, Congo - Badly burnt survivors from a massive tanker blast that killed at least 230 people are recovering in a crumbling hospital in eastern Congo, two days after the fuel truck exploded on a rural highway.

SANGE, Congo - Badly burnt survivors from a massive tanker blast that killed at least 230 people are recovering in a crumbling hospital in eastern Congo, two days after the fuel truck exploded on a rural highway.

Kumba Mupepe, a doctor at the Uvira Hospital, said yesterday at least 46 injured people had been brought there.

UN spokesperson Madnodje Mounoubai said 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. Late on Saturday, Red Cross teams buried most of the dead in two mass graves a few kilometres from Sange, where the fuel-hauling tanker overturned.

In a conflict-strewn corner of one of the world's most unstable countries, the shocking tragedy was a devastating blow for residents in a still lawless region.

The accident happened late on Friday when the tanker overturned in the village.

Flames engulfed dozens of homes as villagers, many of them children, crowded around the tanker to scavenge its contents.

"People tried to escape but were caught by the fire and reduced to ashes," said Tondo Sahizira, a teacher at Sange.

The flames spread rapidly to a local cinema hall where a crowd had gathered to follow the World Cup football matches being played in South Africa, said Mbaka Munyerere.

"They were taken by surprise and we could not save them," he said. "It's terrible!"

Sud-Kivu governor Marcellin Cishambo said: "When we arrived in Sange at about noon there were already up to 230 dead. In our presence, three more bodies were added. We are therefore at more than 230 dead and 105 injured."

Regional government spokesperson Vincent Kabanga said: "A tanker truck coming from Tanzania overturned in the village of Sange. There was a crush (of people) and a petrol leak, there was an explosion of fuel which spread through the village."

Sahizira said the driver of the truck managed to escape from his cab, though injured, and told local people to get away because of the risk of an explosion.

"Petrol began to leak out but instead of fleeing people came to collect the fuel," he said.

"A few minutes later there was an explosion, flames burst from the truck and spread very quickly."

Most of the bodies, covered with white shrouds, still lay near the charred skeleton of the truck many hours after the accident. - Sapa-AFP and AP

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