Russia evacuates thousands after fire near military depot

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Russian authorities were evacuating thousands of residents Thursday after a fire broke out and explosions rocked a military depot in the central region of Bashkortostan, agencies quoted local officials as saying.

"The village of Urman will be evacuated entirely and so will the people from nearby locations," the Interfax news agency quoted district administrator Ilshat Safunov as saying.

The evacuation order covers 7,000 to 8,000 people in the area around the base, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) northeast of the regional capital of Ufa, local officials said. Urman has population of about 2,700 according to 2009 figures.

News reports said witnesses could hear loud explosions near the ammunition depot, which caught fire after shells and other ammunition began going off during a loading operation.

A defence ministry spokesman told the RIA Novosti news agency that the military personnel and residents of the nearby village had been evacuated to a safe distance of three kilometres and there were believed to be no casualties.

"At present, they are taking all measures to localise and extinguish the fire," defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenko told the agency.

Explosions at military arms depots are relatively common in Russia and other former Soviet republics, and are often linked to ageing equipment and lax enforcement of safety rules.

© 2011 AFP

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