Munitions dump blasts kill 146 in Congo capital

Huge explosions at a munitions depot in Brazzaville killed 146 people and injured hundreds more while flattening buildings, homes and a Catholic church in the Congo's capital city.

An emergency cabinet meeting early Monday issued a plea to international organisations to help the victims while Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso announced a curfew in the city and set up an exclusion zone around the .

The government said that an electrical circuit fault likely caused a fire which triggered a series of blasts so powerful they devastated the surrounding area and broke windows in Kinshasa, the capital of the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo several miles (kilometres) away.

The toll "stands at 146 at the moment, along with considerable damage," according to a statement released after the cabinet meeting.

Local residents told AFP they thought the number of deaths was higher.

The Catholic church, close to the barracks, collapsed when the explosions occurred during Sunday morning mass.

A French diplomat in the capital speaking to AFP by telephone also put the toll higher.

"We count at least 150 dead in the military hospitals and around 1,500 injured, some of them seriously," he said.

Interior Minister Raymond Mboulou told AFP the area around the munitions depot in the eastern district of Mpila had been devastated with "many houses burned to the ground".

"I experienced the apocalypse," said Jeanette Nuongui, 36, the sole survivor from a family home that was destroyed in one of the explosions.

"It is by the grace of God I am here. My mother died, my father, my two brothers and my two sisters also. There's nothing left."

Among the victims were at least six Chinese workers employed by the Beijing Construction Engineering Group, according to China's Xinhua news agency.

A number of houses were completely destroyed, while others had windows and doors blown out and roofs lifted, an AFP correspondent said.

A woman living in the capital described the chaos and panic in the immediate aftermath of the blasts.

"There are many people on the street. They are running away, barefoot, carrying parcels on their heads. Some are hardly dressed. There are no cars, no buses, no taxis," she said.

"The search for survivors remains a priority," the cabinet statement said, adding that an evaluation team was attempting to assess the damage and come up with ways to deal with the disaster.

"In the light of events, and pending the findings of an enquiry, a short circuit seems to have caused a fire which spread through the central depot of arms and munitions, causing the deaths of some 100 of our compatriots," the statement said.

The main fire had been brought under control by the early hours of Monday.

The country's health minister Georges Moyen told the cabinet meeting that extra medical personnel were being made available "to offer the best care in this tragic situation."

The cabinet also sent out a call to "several international organisations" for help and support, the statement added.

The grounds of Brazzaville cathedral and a local covered market were turned into makeshift emergency housing centres.

At least five strong explosions rocked the Mpila military barracks in the east of the capital between 8:00 am (0700 GMT) and 10:45 am Sunday after a blaze in two munitions depots.

A series of weaker detonations continued into the late morning, hampering firefighters and rescue workers.

River traffic between Kinshasa and Brazzaville was also suspended, a Kinshasa port official said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he had ordered his office to send emergency aid "which will arrive soon in Brazzaville."

  • Wednesday #sgroundup: Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia 2 hours 4 minutes ago
    Wednesday #sgroundup: Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Here are today’s top trending stories in case you missed them.

  • The Lotus breadvan: Flickr photo of the day 16 hours ago
    The Lotus breadvan: Flickr photo of the day

    The Lotus Europa was one of the stranger sports cars of the '70s, but still managed to corner like a sheepdog thanks to its low weight and fiberglass body. This example caught by Dave Lindsay is fairly typical of the nicer early '70s Type 62 Europas Lotus exported to the United States; by today's standards they're odd, underpowered and unreliable — which means they have a fervent fan base.

  • Inside MotoGP, elbow on asphalt at 210 mph 17 hours ago
    Inside MotoGP, elbow on asphalt at 210 mph

    In MotoGP, a most strange sport, compact, highly fit men, most of them Spanish, Italian, Japanese, or Australian, maneuver 350-lb., multimillion-dollar motorcycles around Formula One tracks at 220 mph while wearing computerized suits that inflate when they fall off at speed. It feels as though you’re watching Tron live, and the crashes are just as spectacular. Driving these things requires a lot of nerve, as well as generous levels of Euro-style machismo. The riders of MotoGP can’t walk down the street in Barcelona or Milan without being followed by screaming fans. They’re like some sort of unholy marriage between Daft Punk and Apollo astronauts. In the United States, they’re just guys walking down the street.

  • Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia
    Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Armed pirates boarded a Singapore-managed oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, kidnapping three Indonesian crew and stealing some of the vessel's shipment of diesel fuel, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday. The attack occurred early Tuesday off Malaysia's west coast, said Noel Choong, head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre. The diesel oil tanker was believed to be en route to Myanmar. "IMB is aware of the attack on the Singapore-managed ship in the Malacca Straits.

  • McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania
    McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania

    It may not be safe to enter a McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore on Mondays starting 28 April. To celebrate the iconic Japanese character Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, the fast food chain announced last Friday that it would be releasing a new collection of Hello Kitty toys in McDonald’s restaurants island wide next Monday.

  • First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy
    First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy

    He called the emergency 119 number which put him through to the fire service, which in turn forwarded him to the coastguard two minutes later. That was followed by about 20 other calls from children on board the ship to the emergency number, a fire service officer told Reuters.