Brazzaville (Republic of Congo): Small
detonations shook the capital of the Republic of Congo for a
second day on Monday, after a fire inside a weapons depot set off
a series of explosions so violent that they flattened houses,
businesses and churches, killing hundreds and trapping
countless others under the falling debris.
Firefighters had put out the main blaze in the north of
Brazzaville, and were working to extinguish several smaller
fires that were still burning today.
A large crowd had gathered outside the municipal morgue,
which along with a nearby hospital had registered 206 deaths
in the hours after the first blast yesterday.
In a two-hour stretch today, another seven bodies were
brought in to the morgue, bringing the death toll to at least
213. That number is expected to rise as rescuers begin
clearing the debris including from St. Louis Catholic Church
where dozens of worshippers were attending Sunday Mass when
the building buckled under the force of the blast.
Government spokesman Bienvenu Okyemi blamed a short
circuit for the fire that set off the blasts.
In a statement read to the nation, President Denis
Sassou-Nguesso described the ordeal as "a tragic accident."
And the country`s defense minister rushed to reassure
people in this nation, which is still recovering from a 1997
civil war, that the fire was not a sign of a coup or a mutiny.
Besides the dead, Brazzaville`s rudimentary health care system
is expected to be overwhelmed by the number of injured which
the government estimates at at least 1,500 people.
One of the hospitals treating the wounded made an appeal
to donors to give blood, according to UN-run Radio Okapi,
based in Kinshasa, the capital of the neighboring Central
African nation of Congo.
Foreign ambassadors including from the US and France met
with government officials early Monday to discuss aid for the
rescue effort, said a diplomat who requested anonymity because
he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Efforts to retrieve the wounded and dead were hampered by
the continuing detonations on Sunday and Monday, which set off
Condolences and offers of help poured in from around the
world. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was
"greatly saddened" by the news of the tragedy.
Among the dead were the employees of a Chinese
construction firm which had 140 Chinese workers at its
construction site when the first blast happened. China`s
official Xinhua News Agency reported today that six Chinese
nationals died in the explosions, and another person was
missing. Dozens of their workers were injured.