Two boats overloaded with fishermen and traders collided on a lake off the Congo River, killing at least 160 people, the government said. More than 100 were missing.
Reports emerged Thursday of casualties from one of the deadliest ferry disasters in African history, where inadequate roads make crowded, dilapidated riverboats a prime means of transportation.
Villagers in wooden canoes rescued many of the 222 survivors of the accident, authorities said, saving them from waves as high as 8 feet. The accident occurred late Tuesday.
"When the boat split, everyone fell in the water, searching for something to hold on to," said passenger Bienvenue Mwanku, a 23-year-old student.
"Many pushed themselves up onto empty tin barrels," Mwanku said.
News of the collision reached the capital, Kinshasa, late Wednesday. The government blamed a storm for the collision on Lake Mai-Ndombe, which drains into the Congo River.
Each vessel was built to hold about 100 people, aid workers said. But Congo Humanitarian Affairs Minister Catherine Nzuzi said they were carrying a total of 450 to 500.
The storm threw hundreds of passengers and crew members into the water, and strong winds and high waves kept many from swimming to shore.