Over 20,000 evacauted in Russian arms fire

3rd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

More than 20,000 people were evacuated and two died of heart attacks when a fire at a munitions depot in central Russia triggered a succession of explosions and sent a fireball blazing into the sky.

Officials battled through the night to put out a huge blaze at a military depot storing shells and rockets in the Volga region of Udmurtia as it hurled shrapnel into the air and sent people running for their life.

"Anything that could have exploded did," emergencies ministry spokesman Mikhail Turkov told AFP.

The fire broke out at the depot located near the village of Pugachyovo near the city of Izhevsk just before midnight, the emergency ministry said.

Nearly 60 people sought medical help and 25 people were hospitalised, many of them elderly, officials said, adding one man had his finger amputated as a result of the accident.

Two elderly people -- a woman and a man -- died of heart attacks, said Elena Ivanova, a spokeswoman for the regional health ministry in Udmurtia, declining however to link the deaths to the fire or the explosions themselves.

More than 500 personnel were battling the blaze, along with four planes, three helicopters and robotic equipment, officials said, adding more than 40 tonnes of water have been dumped over the blaze as of 0900 GMT.

By that time authorities said they had the fire under control and many people were beginning to return home as doctors were helping local residents who sustained emotional trauma.

"I thought it was thunder. No, looks like it is not thunder. I then hear the base is going up in the air," local villager Galina Morozova said in televised remarks, adding the force of the blast broke windows.

Udmurtia leader Alexander Volkov met local residents, who were evacuated to the nearby villages, saying the government would compensate them for damage sustained in the fire.

"I think you'll have to stay here overnight and you will have a chance to go back home on Saturday or Sunday," he told villagers in remarks released by his government.

Turkov, the emergencies ministry spokesman, said officials had prepared to evacuate around 28,000 but ended up evacuating slightly over 22,000 people living nearby.

Explosions at military weapons depots are relatively common in Russia and are often linked to ageing equipment and lax enforcement of safety rules.

After the incident, which came hot on the heels of a similar fire last month, the defence ministry quickly put a lid on the exact quantity of munitions stored at the depot.

"This is confidential information," Moscow-based defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told AFP. Turkov, the emergencies ministry spokesman, said earlier in the day the depot could have contained up to 10,000 rail trucks worth of shells.

The silo also stores a small amount of Grad rocket systems but they are kept in a concrete shelter and did not explode, said Konashenkov.

Late last month, a similar fire at a munitions depot in the central region of Bashkortostan triggered explosions that lasted several days.

© 2011 AFP

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