Three people died and dozens were missing after a large canoe capsized overnight on Lake Kivu in eastern DR Congo, local sources said Tuesday.
“The toll in human lives is unknown, but it is very heavy,” said Apollinaire Bulindi, an honorary provincial minister and prominent engineer.
Sources said between 50 and 100 people were aboard the motorised boat, known locally as a pirogue, which was also laden with goods.
“Operations are continuing,” a rescue worker told AFP, adding that 35 people had been rescued, while three bodies had been plucked from the water.
Lake Kivu Commissioner Norbert Rugusha said he was heading to the area to investigate what had happened and would issue a “full toll” later.
The boat had left the region’s main city of Goma, on Lake Kivu’s northern shore, headed for the town of Kalehe to the west.
Noting that the key Goma-Bukavu highway that many of the passengers might have taken was currently impassable, Bulindi urged recently-elected President Felix Tshisekedi to make good on a campaign pledge to repair the road.
Boat mishaps are common on the lakes and rivers of the resource-rich but impoverished former Belgian colony.
The accidents are typically caused by overloading of passengers and cargo on rickety vessels. The toll is often heavy because of a lack of life jackets and the fact that many people do not know how to swim.