Congo Asks Citizens to Return to Capital After Deadly Explosion

Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso urged citizens to return to their homes in the capital, Brazzaville, to prevent looting after an explosion at an arms depot killed more than 100 people and leveled houses in the city.

Hundreds more were injured in the blast yesterday morning in the eastern Mpila neighborhood that borders the Congo River, Communications Minister Bienvenu Okiemy said on TeleCongo, the state-owned broadcaster. Buildings were damaged as far away as Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo, 5 kilometers (3 miles) across the river. Xinhua reported more than 200 people died and at least 1,000 were hurt.

“We’re calling on the people of Brazzaville to go to hospitals to give blood,” Okiemy said. “The neighborhood of Mpila is grim. The houses there are ruined and even our citizen soldiers who were in the camp are dead. We must do everything we can so we do not have many more deaths.”

A fire at the Regiment Blinde base, housing weapons that were going to be destroyed, set off the blast in the city, home to about 1.3 million people. In 2009, mortars from the same camp exploded though no one was killed. Congo, sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-biggest oil producer, experienced a civil war from 1997 to 1999 that left at least 10,000 people dead and forced 800,000 people to flee their homes.

Investigation Planned

“We will launch an investigation to know what exactly happened,” Sassou Nguesso said on TeleCongo. “I will assemble the government to examine the situation. We will help everyone, especially the wounded.”

U.S. officials saw hundreds of injured people in Brazzaville hospitals yesterday, the U.S Embassy said in an e-mailed statement. Homes were destroyed in the Mpila neighborhood and there was damage in the districts of Ouenze and Talangai, it said.

“I was in bed and there were two small blasts which shook the hotel and that was followed by one enormous blast that blew out the windows in the hotel and quite a lot of the ceiling panels came down as well,” Patrick Mair, Africa analyst with Control Risks, said by phone from Brazzaville. “It caused quite a lot of confusion and a lot of uncertainty.”

At least six Chinese citizens were killed and dozens were injured, Xinhua said, citing the Chinese Embassy in Brazzaville. The people were employees of the Beijing Construction Engineering Group, it said.

French Assistance

France, the former colonial ruler of Congo, said it planned to send emergency aid to the Central African country.

“In these particularly tragic circumstances I wish to express once again France’s solidarity with the Congolese authorities and people severely affected by this tragedy,” the French government said in a statement yesterday.

The Republic of Congo pumped about 300,000 barrels of oil a day last year, according to BP Plc’s Statistical Review of World Energy. Companies including France’s Total SA, Brazil’s Petroleo Brasileiro SA and the U.S.’s Chevron Corp. are exploring for, or produce oil in the country.

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