Russia arms depot blasts force mass evacuation

Last Updated: Friday, June 3, 2011 - 15:48

Moscow: Russian firefighters on Friday battled a blaze raging through an arms depot where tonnes of artillery shells and rockets were stored, as some 28,000 people living nearby were evacuated from their homes.

As a result of the night-time blaze at the arms depot near the city of Izhevsk in the Volga region of Udmurtia, 30 people were injured and nine hospitalised including a child, an Emergency Ministry spokesman said.

"Nine people were hospitalised, three people with burns," said Mikhail Surkov, a spokesman for Volga region.

"One person has light concussion, one person has a broken leg, the others have cuts and scratches."

"A total of more than 28,000 people have been evacuated," the regional Emergency Ministry said in a statement.

The residents of the neighbouring town of Argyz of around 19,000 people and the nearby village of Pugachyovo were evacuated in buses to nearby villages at a radius of 30 to 60 kilometres, officials said.

Balls of fire rose up from the depot in regular explosions, television footage showed, while by morning a thick column of smoke poured from the site.

The Defence Ministry said that the military personnel at the depot did not sustain any casualties.

"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 ministry said in a statement.

The depot contained rockets but they are safely stored and have not exploded, Deputy Defence Minister Dmitry Bulgakov told the RIA Novosti news agency from the scene.

"The rockets did not explode. They are in a concrete shelter up to 70 centimetres (28 inches) thick," Bulgakov told the agency. The ministry had said earlier that the depot contained only "classic artillery shells".

A source in the law enforcement authorities told the Interfax news agency the rockets were stored without their warheads, making them less dangerous.

"At the moment they do not present a serious threat to the public," the source said.

The depot, which housed old ammunition which was due to be decomissioned, contained explosives equivalent to 58 tonnes of TNT, Russian television reported.

The force of the blast broke windows in the nearby village and the fire burnt down a two-storey building where the personnel lived, the Defence Ministry said.

The force of the explosions had slightly diminished early Friday, the Emergency Ministry. "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.

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, according to officials.

Bureau Report



First Published: Friday, June 3, 2011 - 15:48

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