Africa

Congo arms depot fire 'under control' in Brazzaville

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Media captionPresident Denis Sassou-Nguesso: "I am asking to population to show courage and solidarity"

An arms depot fire that raged for two days in the Republic of Congo's capital Brazzaville is now under control, officials say.

The blaze has claimed some 200 lives, with many more people feared buried under the rubble.

Rescuers say it is still too dangerous to go in because of unexploded weapons.

Firefighters stopped the flames reaching a second arms depot, but a BBC reporter in the city said more shells have been exploding around the site.

The BBC's Thomas Hubert in Brazzaville says that despite the risk posed by unexploded munitions, people are going to the blast area themselves to search for relatives.

There are fears that hundreds of bodies could be buried, he says.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Brazzaville's hospitals are struggling to cope with the injured

The Red Cross admitted that it was still not able to begin search and rescue operations because of the number of shells and rockets littered around the site.

Morgue workers told Associated Press that they were running out of space to store bodies, while our reporter says there is a "constant stream" of injured people needing treatment at the city's hospitals.

At least 5,000 people are also thought to have been made homeless by Sunday's explosions, which hit the densely populated eastern suburb of Mpili in Brazzaville.

Emergency relief is slowly getting organised, with a team of 20 French doctors and nurses arriving on Tuesday to help treat the most seriously wounded.

'Devastation'

Our correspondent says the scene at the edge of the military barracks is one of "utter devastation".

The fence surrounding the military base - where the series of explosions began after 08:00 local time (07:00 GMT) on Sunday and continued into the early afternoon - has been blown away, even though it was made of reinforced concrete, he says.

Government officials said the explosions were caused by a short-circuit that led to a fire.

Residents in the east of Brazzaville fled when the first blasts occurred - and at least 2,000 people are now in temporary shelters throughout the city.

Some have returned to their homes to try to salvage as many possessions as possible, our correspondent says.

"We shouldn't have been allowed to live so near the camp," Victoire Ndzota, whose house was wrecked, told Reuters news agency.

After visiting two hospitals, a visibly shaken President Denis Sassou-Nguesso said the government was doing all it could and urged Congolese "to show courage and solidarity".

He also announced a curfew in the area and set up an exclusion zone.

Defence Minister Charles Zacharie Bowao earlier appeared on national TV to urge calm in Brazzaville and across the Congo river in Kinshasa, where windows were blown out and roofs damaged by the blasts.

Our correspondent who was in Kinshasa at the time of the blasts says many people fled from the river fearing shelling had broken out in Brazzaville.

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