Cyprus: Zygi naval base munitions blast kills 12

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A massive blast at a munitions dump in southern Cyprus has killed 12 people, including the commander of the country's navy, officials say.

A fire reportedly ignited about 100 containers holding confiscated Iranian explosives at the naval base at Zygi.

The fire spread to the island's largest power station. It has been knocked out, resulting in widespread power cuts.

Defence Minister Costas Papacostas and National Guard Chief Petros Tsalikides resigned over the accident.

President Dimitris Christopfias, who went to the area, described the explosion as "a catastrophe of biblical proportions".

He added: "We were devastated by this event, not so much by the material damage, but by the loss of human lives and the injury of many of our compatriots."

The dead also include the commander of the Evangelos Florakis naval base, police said. About 60 people were wounded in the blast.

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said sabotage had been ruled out.

Power cuts

Officials say all 98 containers of explosive stored in the munitions dump at the base had exploded.

They had been seized from a Cypriot-flagged ship, the Monchegorsk, which was intercepted travelling from Iran in January 2009.

Cyprus said the shipment violated UN sanctions against Iran.

The fire spread to the nearby Vassilikou power station - which provides 50% of the country's electricity - knocking out the electricity supply to many homes and businesses.

The fire has also had a knock-on effect on the BBC's broadcasts to the eastern Mediterranean.

Six of the eight transmitters in the BBC's relay station at Zygi are without power, interrupting direct English-language broadcasts to the Middle East.

State radio said the dead included two sailors from the Cyprus navy, two soldiers and five firefighters.

'Total mess'

The blast, which occurred at 0600 (0300 GMT), was "rather like a sonic boom", eyewitness Hermes Solomon told the BBC.

He was staying in a caravan on a campsite not far from the base.

"The doors crashed together, the glass blew in - windows, door frames, things left their shelves. It was a total mess inside, as though a bomb had hit the place."

State television said the blasts caused extensive damage to property in the area and sparked wildfires in nearby scrubland in the tinder-dry summer conditions.

"It was huge. I fell out of bed and ran to check on the kids," nearby resident Eleni Toubi told Reuters.

Alexandra Dimitriou, who was at nearby Governor's Beach at the time of the explosion, said all the hotels in the area had their glass blown out.

"After the blast we walked up across the beach to make sure there were no casualties," she told the BBC. "There was a lot of panic there. Older folk thought the Turks were invading.

"There was shattered glass everywhere. We got in the car and left to avoid getting stuck there and on our way back to Limassol we saw road signs which had been ripped off by the force of the explosion."