Flood of blazing oil kills 300 villagers

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The Independent Online
ASSIUT (Reuter) - More than 410 people were killed by storms in southern Egypt yesterday, most of them when blazing fuel flooded into a village from a depot struck by lightning.

A health official said hospitals in the area had received 229 corpses from the stricken village of Dronka. A security official said another 122 corpses were still lying on the ground in the village, awaiting transfer. Flash floods killed 63 other people in Assiut and neighbouring provinces.

Lightning struck the complex of eight fuel tanks yesterday morning towards the end of a thunderstorm that raged across much of Egypt for up to five hours.

Officials said three of the storage tanks, each holding about 5,000 tons of aircraft or diesel fuel for the army, exploded and spilt burning fuel into the village, about 200 miles south of Cairo.

More than 200 houses in Dronka were destroyed and at least 20,000 terrified people fled and headed towards the provincial capital, Assiut city, five miles away.

``It was like napalm,'' said a witness, Abdel Mohsen. Three of his brothers, aged six, eight and 11, were killed when burning petrol burst into their home. They had been getting ready to go to school.

The health official said rescue workers had not reached some of the damaged buildings, including two five-storey structures from which there are no known survivors.

One of the fuel tanks was still ablaze late last night and the other five could catch fire if the wind changed direction. The tanks, part of a defence ministry strategic reserve, stand about 65 yards apart.

Black smoke covered the area but firefighters decided to let the fire burn itself out, the security sources said.

People who escaped the inferno said many families were trapped in their homes and that dozens of people were missing, including at least 10 men caught in a mosque during dawn prayers and a maintenance crew working at the storage depot.

The governor of Assiut province, Samih el-Saeed, declared a state of emergency and sent rescue units. Mr Saeed said it was too early to give an exact figure for the number of people killed.

The rain itself stopped in the morning but it is still running off the hills to the east and west of the Nile valley.

The fuel tanks at Dronka are operated by a subsidiary of the state-run Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation. Officials at the corporation's offices in Cairo declined to comment on the incident. One said a team of experts was travelling to Assiut to assess the damage to the tanks.