Two petrol tanker barges blasted near Al Madain, yesterday afternoon, while on anchor at the Tigris bank, 30 kilometres south of Baghdad. Rescue works are going on, our staff writer reports from the site.
The blast caught 350 to 400 on board as they were bucketing petrol off the holds. A blast wave threw more than a hundred off into the water. 13 bodies have been recovered for now. The rest are missing.
Dozens of exasperated families are crowded on the bank to learn the news of their near and dear, and receive recovered bodies for burial. The crowd is badly harassing rescuers, says the RIA Novosti correspondent.
The number of victims certainly exceeds 180. The Qatar-based Al Jazeera television specified the number as 280, with reference to eyewitness accounts. 25 injured survivors were taken to hospital. Eight of them died on the way, reports the TV company.
The moored barges were holding a part of Iraqi strategic fuel, as stocked up countrywide before the war. Local car and lorry owners started bucketing the petrol off everywhere as soon as the warfare was over. Al Madain was no exception.
It is obscure what caused the tragedy. There are assumptions of a spark caused by a bucket hitting the hull of one of the barges.
No official information has come up for now.
Similar accidents were recently reported from three Baghdad neighbourhoods, where war stock petrol was pillaged from lorry cisterns. One of the recent accidents killed four and injured 32 in a petrol station in the city heart.