Russia depot blasts force mass evacuation
A fire at a munitions depot in the Russian region of Bashkortostan on Thursday triggered explosions that hurled shrapnel into the air, forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents, officials said.
A report said one person died during the evacuation.
Defence officials said the fire began when a piece of ammunition went off during a regular loading operation. News reports said the silo stored some 100,000 tonnes of shells and other military equipment in all.
"As a result of the fire, shells stored in a loading area began to detonate," the defence ministry said in a statement.
National television showed a plume of smoke billowing above the depot, located around 100 kilometres (60 miles) northeast of Ufa, capital of the central Russian region of Bashkortostan.
News reports said people near the depot could hear loud explosions.
One defence official said the explosions could continue through the weekend.
"The shrapnel from the exploding shells is not flying further than three kilometres," a source in the emergencies ministry told the Interfax news agency.
Russia's Transneft oil pipeline monopoly stopped pumping crude to a local refinery as a precaution because the fire was running close to one of the company's lines, a company spokesman told the RIA Novosti news agency.
The defence ministry depot is located just 500 metres away from a village of 2,650 residents, all of whom have been evacuated, along with the servicemen at the depot, a regional emergency ministry spokesman told AFP.
The fire was spreading to buildings in the village of Urman, but had not ignited a nearby forest, said the district spokesman Oleg Zugeyev.
The emergency ministry said it had 44 firefighters at the scene and had sent a Be-200 water-bombing plane from Moscow. It also planned to use Ilyushin-76 jets and three robot firefighters to fight the blaze.
Explosions at military weapons depots are relatively common in Russia and other former Soviet republics, and are often linked to ageing equipment and lax enforcement of safety rules.
In 2009, around 3,000 people were evacuated when a series of blasts ripped through a munitions depot outside the city of Ulyanovsk in central Russia in a fire sparked by planned disposal of ammunition, killing two firemen.
© 2011 AFP