msnbc.com news services
updated 8/2/2007 1:58:45 PM ET 2007-08-02T17:58:45

An overnight train derailed in a remote location in central Congo after its brakes failed, killing about 100 people, government officials said Thursday.

The train's locomotive stopped responding to controls as it traveled between the city of Ilebo and the provincial capital of Kananga, said Medard Ilunga, head of Congo's state railway agency.

The conductor was left with no way to brake, he said. Seven cars overturned in the accident, while another leaned partly off the tracks Thursday.

"The accident that occurred Wednesday resulted in a heavy toll of about 100 dead," government spokesman Toussaint Tshilombo Send told The Associated Press. Earlier reports at put the death toll at about 30 people.

The accident occurred 100 miles northwest of Kananga — the capital of Congo's Kasai Occidental province — just before midnight, Ilunga said. The conductor was able to detach the locomotive and go for help.

“Survivors of the accident have been transported by foot or by bicycle 7.5 miles to the nearest hospital,” said Kemal Saiki, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping operation in the Central African nation.

The U.N. has sent helicopters with doctors, nurses and medical equipment to the site to help military and civilian authorities with the relief effort, Saiki said.

The United Nations has a large, established force in Congo to help the embattled country in its transition to democracy following decades of war and corrupt dictatorship.

Roads and rail lines are notoriously dilapidated in Congo — a country the size of Western Europe. Most of Congo's railroads were built more than 100 years ago, when the country was a Belgian colony.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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