A munitions depot in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville has caught fire, causing a series of massive explosions that reportedly flattened houses and blew out windows. Reports say at least 150 people were killed.
A series of explosions at a weapons depot in the capital of the Republic of the Congo on Sunday killed at least 150 people and injured hundreds more, sending residents fleeing the heavily populated area.
Congolese Defense Minister Charles Zacharie Boawo made an appearance on national television pleading for residents of Brazzaville and neighboring Kinshasa, capital of the larger Democratic Republic of Congo, to remain calm. He said a fire at the munitions depot caused the explosions and cautioned against jumping to the conclusion that the blasts were part of a coup d'état or mutiny.
"At this very moment our experts are there trying to extinguish this fire so this situation does not recur," he said.
There were conflicting reports of the number of fatalities. One European diplomat told AFP news agency that at least 150 people were counted dead in military hospitals and around 1,500 injured, while an official with the office of the presidency told Reuters that around 200 were dead.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua quoted Chinese officials as saying three Chinese workers had been killed and dozens were injured.
Residents said houses in the area were flattened by the explosions and windows were blown out. Congolese TV showed images of panicking residents on the streets near the Mpila neighborhood, where the munitions depot is located.
The Republic of Congo underwent several coups and a civil war after gaining independence from France in 1960. However it has been mostly peaceful since President Denis Sassou-Nguesso rose to power in a coup in 1997.
acb/dfm (AP, AFP, Reuters)