100s dead in Congo munitions blasts (Pictures)

By IndepthAfrica
In DR Congo
Mar 4th, 2012
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An injured man is treated by health workers at a hospital, after multiple explosions occurred at a munitions depot, in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo Sunday, March 4, 2012. Blasts rocked the capital of the Republic of Congo Sunday morning after a weapons depot caught fire, officials said, killing more than 200, wounding unknown numbers, and forcing 2,000 to flee their homes.(AP Photo/Elie Mbena)

Huge explosions rocked a munitions depot in the Republic of Congo’s capital Brazzaville Sunday, killing at least 100 people and leaving countless others injured, the interior minister said.

A plume of smoke rises over the Congolese capital Brazzaville, pictured from across the Congo River in Kinshasa, capital of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. Huge explosions rocked a munitions depot in the Congolese capital Brazzaville Sunday, killing at least 100 people and leaving countless others injured, the interior minister said.

Injured people are treated by health workers at a hospital, after multiple explosions occurred at a munitions depot, in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, Sunday, March 4, 2012. Blasts rocked the capital of the Republic of Congo Sunday morning after a weapons depot caught fire, officials said, killing more than 200, wounding unknown numbers, and forcing some 2,000 people to flee their homes.(AP Photo/Elie Mbena)

A European diplomat said earlier that at least 150 bodies had piled up in military hospitals in the city and that more than 1,500 people had been injured in the blasts.

“There are more than 100 dead,” Interior Minister Raymond Mboulou said by telephone, citing civilian and military hospitals. “The injured are difficult to enumerate for the moment.”

Mboulou said the area around the munitions depot had been devastated with “many houses burned to the ground”.

He added that President Denis Sassou Nguesso had taken charge of relief operations.

Injured people are treated in a hospital hallway after multiple explosions occurred at a munitions depot, in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo Sunday, March 4, 2012. Blasts rocked the capital of the Republic of Congo Sunday morning after a weapons depot caught fire, officials said, killing more than 200, wounding unknown numbers, and forcing 2,000 to flee their homes.(AP Photo/Elie Mbena)

“Therefore we have requisitioned pharmacies and we are in the process of finding ways and means to provide shelter for citizens,” he said.

A number of wounded, many wearing military uniforms, were seen receiving first aid in the streets, an AFP correspondent said.

A series of explosions rocked the Mpila military barracks in the east of the capital early Sunday after a blaze in two munitions depots.

The force of the explosions blew out windows across the Congo River in Kinshasa, the capital of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, from where a huge pall of smoke could be seen hanging over Brazzaville.

At least five strong explosions were heard between 8:00 am (0700 GMT) and 10:45 am (0945 GMT).

In addition to the blasts, there were other weaker detonations which continued into the late morning, hampering firefighters and rescue workers.

“We count at least 150 dead in the military hospitals and around 1,500 injured, some of them seriously,” the European diplomat said when contacted by telephone from Paris.

AFP correspondents in Brazzaville had earlier reported seeing four bodies, including that of a young girl, in a clinic near the barracks, while the Chinese Xinhua news agency said three Chinese workers were killed and dozens injured in the blasts.

A diplomat told AFP the incident “is not political and the president (Sassou Nguesso) is with the chief-of-staff to coordinate operations”.

There was no official word from the government on the cause of the explosions.

A number of houses were completely destroyed, while others had windows and doors blown out and roofs lifted, an AFP correspondent said.

A Catholic church, close to the barracks, was also damaged when the explosions occurred during Sunday mass.

“It’s a munitions depot that caught fire in Mpila. That’s next to the presidential palace. I saw two people injured. One had a leg injury, the other a wound to the shoulder,” a woman living in Brazzaville told AFP.

This video image made from DRTV shows injured people being assisted outside a hospital after blasts rocked Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo Sunday March 4, 2012 after a weapons depot caught fire. Officials in the Congo said an unknown numbers of people were killed and wounded and some 2,000 people were forced to flee their homes. The explosions shook houses in Brazzaville and echoed across the Congo River to the capital of the neighboring country. (AP Photo/DRTV) REPUBLIC OF CONGO OUT

“They had probably been hurt by falling debris from houses. A wall fell down in my home,” she added.

“There are many people on the street. They are running away, barefoot, carrying parcels on their heads. Some are hardly dresssed. There are no cars, no buses, no taxis,” she added.

River traffic between Kinshasa and Brazzaville was also suspended, a Kinshasa port official said.

Xinhua news agency said some 140 Chinese workers from the Beijing Construction Engineering Group were working near the munitions depot when the blasts occurred.

The dormitory building of China’s Huawei technology giant was badly damaged, but there were no casualties reported there, Chinese officials said.

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