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Congo: Tragedy in Sange

I arrived this morning in Sange, Democratic Republic of Congo, a town of 45,000 people which was recently hit by a new disaster. A fuel tanker exploded killing 238 people and seriously injuring at least a hundred more. Save the Children works in Sange with the most vulnerable children, including those affected by the ongoing conflicts.

The driver lost control of his fuel tanker, petrol leaked out and caught fire. People sitting inside a cinema nearby watching Ghana play in the world cup became trapped and died in the flames. Many people in Africa have no electricity at home, so makeshift cinema halls are the only way they can see the football.

I had spoken to colleagues on the ground, seen the photographs in the international press, and was expecting the worst. My fears were realised. Mass graves on the side of the road were a chilling testiment to the extent of the devastation. The burnt out shell of the tanker truck lay as it had fallen, before it caught on fire and burned at least 14 neighbouring houses to the ground.

The local ‘cinema’ where an excited audience, mostly children, had been watching the World Cup was also gutted. But the market was open, and people were keen to talk to us about the many needs that the community faces in the coming weeks.

We met with the children’s club representatives and members of the community-based child protection network. Two of the children who were killed were members of our children’s club, a third was one of the children’s younger sister. Another two victims had received support through our income-generating activities to help them make a living once they quit the armed groups they had been living and fighting with.

Other children were injured, but nobody is quite sure where, or how, they are. They told us that many children had fled the town after the incident, and were only today returning. They are orphaned, traumatised and scared. We need to urgently identify these children and ensure that they are safe, with someone to look after them. Kits for host families will help. Psychosocial support, through our day centre, will focus on helping children overcome the trauma of the events they have witnessed. And in the longer term, the orphaned and injured children will need our support to go back to school in September.

It’s just another tragedy in the Congo. They happen everyday, but rarely with the intensity that attracts the global media, however briefly. These children have experienced war and violence throughout their lives, we must now ensure that they are helped after another terrible loss of life in south Kivu.

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