Mozambique News Agency
Maputo, 23 Mar (AIM) - At least 72 people died, and another 370 were injured, in Thursday's violent explosions that rocked Maputo, as a military arsenal in the outer suburb of Malhazine blew up.
Health Minister Ivo Garrido gave the casualty figures to reports on Friday morning. His death toll came from the number of bodies in the morgues of Maputo hospitals.
The death toll will rise as bodies are still being pulled from the rubble of buildings destroyed by the explosions. A large number of people are reported missing (notably children who became separated from their parents during the panic), and it is not yet known how many of these may have died.
The fire at the arsenal began, on a small scale, at about 16.00, but as it spread so more of the obsolete shells and other devices stored there began to explode. As from 17.00 the explosions became more violent, and a huge columns of black smoke, in which the occasional vivid ball of fire blazed, hung over Malhazine. At one point the smoke over Malhazine resembled a mushroom cloud.
In the evening the violence of the explosions died down, but some were still being heard at 22.30.
The explosions flung projectiles across the city with great force, demolishing houses, and sometimes burying people inside them. The explosions were strong enough to shatter windows and store fronts in central Maputo, some nine kilometres from Malhazine.
Maputo International Airport was closed to traffic: one end of the airport runway is quite close to the blazing arsenal.
It is not known exactly how the blaze started. The high temperatures on Thursday doubtless played a role - but a strong case can also be argued for criminal negligence. For this is not the first time there have been such explosions. On 25 September 1985, a similar incident led to 12 deaths and a further 83 people were wounded. At the time, the apartheid-backed rebel movement Renamo claimed responsibility, and boasted of blowing up the arsenal. This was nonsense, since Renamo was not operating anywhere near Malhazine. There is every reason to suppose that the 1985 disaster was caused by poor storage of obsolete explosives.
However, the problem seemed to have been solved, for there was no further tragedy at the arsenal for over two decades. But on 28 January this year, there was a series of explosions, in which three people were injured and substantial damage done to property.
This should have served as a warning, and indeed Ministry of Defence officials admitted that arsenals should not be placed in residential areas, and promised to move them. But this promise was not acted upon, and as a result dozens of Maputo residents are dead.
There have also been explosions at
an FADM arsenal in Beira. In November 2002, four people died and 27 were injured.
In the second Beira incident, in January 2005, there were no casualties.
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