Fire Threatens Second Arms Depot in Republic of Congo

Posted March 5th, 2012 at 1:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Republic of Congo government and aid officials say fires are threatening a second munitions depot in the capital, one day after blasts at another depot killed an estimated 200 people.

Officials say small blasts and fires continued to break out in and around the first munitions site in Brazzaville on Monday, sending panicked residents fleeing into the streets. But army spokesman Colonel Robert Obargui assured residents the situation was “under control.”

Government officials suspect an electrical short-circuit sparked a fire at the first depot on Sunday, setting off a series of powerful blasts. The explosions flattened homes and buildings, trapping many people under debris and rubble in the Mpila neighborhood along the Congo River.

Authorities have not given an official casualty figure, but they estimate that 200 people were killed and about 1,000 others were injured.

Thousands of residents crowded city streets on Monday, prompting President Denis Sassou-Nguesso to urge them to return to their homes.

“We will face this. We are trying to organize ourselves. I am asking the population to show courage and solidarity,” he said.

Mr. Sassou-Nguesso also appeared on state television visiting with patients at a crowded hospital.

Diplomats from the United States and France have met with Congolese officials to offer help with the rescue efforts.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday said he is “profoundly saddened” at what he described as “the accidental explosion of an ammunition depot.”

The U.N. chief said the world body will continue to assist in ongoing humanitarian operations in the central African country.