The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is sending doctors, nurses, emergency workers and rescue equipment to the centre of the vast country, where a train derailed last night, killing about 100 people.
Survivors reported that the goods train was speeding when eight of its carriages derailed near Kakenge in Western Kasai province, while en route from the town of Ilebo to the provincial capital of Kananga.
Kemal Saïki, a spokesperson for the UN mission (MONUC), said official Government figures placed the death toll at 100 after earlier estimates gave the number of dead as 68. At least 120 others are seriously wounded, and many remain trapped in the wreckage.
“It was a massive accident, and we are trying to assist as much as we can,” Mr. Saïki said.
MONUC chief William Lacy Swing said the mission would contribute “all of its available resources” to help in the rescue efforts.
“We are appalled by the loss of life, especially in a country which has already suffered so much,” he said.
The lack of serviceable transportation in the DRC, combined with the dilapidated state of the roads and railways, means that many Congolese people often ride on goods trains – sometimes on the roofs of carriages – to reach distant towns and cities. It is not known exactly how many passengers where aboard last night’s train.
The mission dispatched a helicopter today from Kananga carrying four Congolese doctors and three nurses to treat the injured, as well as medical kits, UN police officers and other UN staff to help with the relief efforts. Those staff are going to conduct an assessment of the humanitarian needs in the wake of the crash.
Tomorrow MONUC will send further medical and emergency supplies, and will also transport high-level Congolese officials to the crash site.
The rescue operation is being hampered by the fact that local authorities do not have the technical equipment to lift the carriages, under which some people are believed trapped, or to cut through the heavy wreckage.
The nearest hospital is 12 kilometres away, and the first people rescued had to be transported by foot or bicycle.
MONUC is in the DRC to help the country rebuild after its five-year civil war, starting in the late 1990s, engulfed the Great Lakes region. Some four million people died in that conflict or because of related hunger or disease.