Colombo: A major fire triggered a series of explosions at one of Sri Lanka's largest military ammunition dumps, killing one soldier and forcing thousands of people to flee as debris fell into populated areas damaging nearby homes.
In the worst ammunition depot fire in Lanka's history, the ammunition dump at Salawa area in Avissawella, 30 kms east of Colombo, caught fire at around 5 PM (local time) yesterday, setting off huge explosions that went on through the night.
Rocket-propelled grenade shells and shrapnel triggered by the explosions destroyed a hospital and hundreds of nearby homes, creating panic among thousands of people who rushed for cover, officials said.
"A soldier has been killed and the military has entered the premises," military spokesman Brigadier Jayanath Jayaweera said, adding that soldiers have doused the fire.
More than 40 people were injured in the incident.
Firefighters had to struggle for more than 12 hours to douse the blaze at the Salawa military complex.
Thousands of people living close to the site were asked to vacate their homes and move to schools, temples and other places for cover as intermittent blasts were still erupting.
The incident is termed as the worst ammunition depot fire in Sri Lanka's history. The armoury is one of the largest ammunition storage of the Sri Lankan Army.
The cause behind the incident was not immediately known. Residents said loud explosions were heard with raging fire within the complex which houses weapons ranging from T56 rifles to mortar bombs.
All residents within a five kms radius of the complex were evacuated last night to prevent people from inhaling fumes emanating from the fire. Residents said the fire could be seen even this morning, more than 12 hours after the first explosions were heard.
President Maithripala Sirisena has ordered police's Crime Investigation Department to probe the incident.