Russian arms depot blasts force evacuation of 28,000

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Authorities in central Russia were early Friday battling a fire raging through an arms depot storing around 10,000 tonnes of shells that forced the evacuation of more than 28,000 people.

As a result of the night-time blaze at the arms depot near the city of Izhevsk in the Volga region of Udmurtia four people received burns and were hospitalised, the regional emergencies ministry said in a statement.

"A total of more than 28,000 people have been evacuated," the ministry said.

The defence ministry said that the military personnel at the depot did not sustain any casualties, however.

"According to a report from the scene at 0630 Moscow time (0230 GMT), there were no casualties as a result of the fire and exploding shells among the military personnel," the statement said.

"At the moment the force of the explosions has slightly diminished," the emergency ministry said early Friday. "There is no threat to nearby villages and the town of Izhevsk."

More than 100 firefighters were battling the blaze, along with water-bombing planes and robotic equipment, officials said.

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

"Depots storing classic artillery shells are burning. The shells are exploding over the whole area of the military unit," the ministry said.

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

Late last month a similar fire at a munitions depot in the region of Bashkortostan triggered explosions and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents, officials have said.

© 2011 AFP

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