Fri, Nov 28, 2003 - Page 7 News List

60 missing in two Congo disasters


More than 60 people were missing in the Democratic Republic of Congo after two ferries collided in a storm and a train hit a landslide and plunged into a river, government officials said on Wednesday.

Ferdinand Derouaux, Cabinet director at the Ministry of Transport, said some 50 passengers were missing from Monday's ferry disaster, while 11 disappeared when the train fell into the river on Wednesday.

Congo's infrastructure has been battered by almost five years of civil war and decades of mismanagement which have left the former Belgian colony's roads in a dire state and much of its rail network out of service.

River transport is often the only way for people to travel between towns and ferry disasters are not that rare as boats are frequently overloaded and often lack even the most rudimentary safety equipment.

The ferry disaster happened on Lake Mai-Ndombe, which means "Black Water" and is about 400km northwest of the capital Kinshasa. It covers 2,300km2 but doubles or triples in size during the rainy season.

"There was a storm on the lake. The lake can be very dangerous ... According to information we have, there were about 50 people on board that I know to be mis-sing. Two people have survived," Derouaux said.

The western regions of the vast central African nation have been deluged by heavy downpours as the rainy season gets into full swing.

Information Minister Vital Kamhere said two vessels had collided in heavy weather and that the government was sending a team to investigate. He declined to comment on possible casualties.

Derouaux said the train crash happened just outside the western town of Matadi. He said two engines plunged into the river, taking two of the wagons they were towing with them, as the train set off for Kinshasa.

He said Congo's state-owned transport firm only possessed five train engines before the accident, adding: "This is going to make our work very difficult."

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