Explosion At Weapons Depot Near Maputo Airport Kills 93

Friday, March 23rd 2007, 2:43 pm
By: News On 6

MAPUTO, Mozambique (AP) _ Anxious crowds gathered at the city's hospital Friday as doctors and nurses struggled to keep up with a stream of patients wounded when a weapons depot exploded in a densely populated neighborhood, sparking a cascade of rockets and ammunition and killing 93.

The inferno _ blamed on blistering temperatures which overheated the dilapidated depot Thursday _ deepened the misery in this poor southern African country which is still struggling to cope with the aftermath of floods and a cyclone last month.

Health Minister Ivo Garrido said Friday that 93 people were killed in Thursday's explosion, which shattered windows, shook nearby buildings and rained rockets down on residential areas.

With casualties still arriving at Maputo's central hospital, Garrido said the number of injured was not known but was more than 300.

The government declared three days of national mourning and said flags will be flown at half staff.

Garrido said the casualties included military personnel working on the site and civilians _ many of them children _ living in the crowded, poor neighborhood.

``I thought it was another civil war or coup d'etat,'' said Jamisse Ossumane, who sustained serious back injuries when something _ he did not know what _ hit him in his home.

The country's long civil war ended in 1992.

President Armando Guebuza toured the stricken area, visited victims in hospital and appealed to the nation for solidarity with the victims.

``We mourn what has is happening,'' said Guebuza.

The defense ministry said high temperatures in recent months were the most likely cause of Thursday's explosion. The temperature Thursday was 93 degrees. The searing heat was blamed for a smaller explosion at the depot in January when three people were injured.

The Interior Ministry ordered police and firefighters to help the military destroy all remaining ammunition at the badly maintained depot, which was built by the Soviet Union in 1984 and stocked with obsolete Soviet-made weapons.

The ministry also ordered police reinforcements to stop looters from ransacking houses abandoned by their owners because of the inferno.

Victims were packed into Maputo's main hospital.

Josefina Tembe was one of them. She said she was sitting in her back yard when the explosions started. One of the rockets destroyed her home, seriously injuring her in a leg.

Jose Macuacua, 15, ran outside his house when he heard the blasts and was hit by a flying missile, wounding him in a leg and right arm.

Overwhelmed doctors and nurses struggled to cope with the influx of patients. Authorities said many children had been separated from their parents in the chaos and panic.

Radio stations were flooded with callers outraged that the depot was near residential areas. Twelve people were killed in an explosion at the site in 1984.

``The government should remove the arsenal and investigate the causes of the explosion because it is not the first time,'' said Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the former rebel movement. ``War materials should not be kept where there are people living,'' he said.

Mozambique is still recovering from the legacy of Portuguese colonial rule and the civil war which followed. It has been battered by natural disasters this year affecting more than 500,000 people and prompting the United Nations to launch an emergency appeal for $18 million.