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Thousands evacuated after blasts at Russian arms depot
by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) June 19, 2013


More than 6,000 people were evacuated in central Russia overnight after a series of massive explosions at an arms depot blew out windows and sparked a fire, the emergency situations ministry said Wednesday.

The blasts began Tuesday night and continued for hours during an operation to dispose of old munitions at the depot near the town of Chapayevsk in the Samara region about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) southeast of Moscow.

Russian television footage showed huge columns of black smoke and bright orange flames rising from the depot, and a correspondent for Rossiya 24 television at the scene said explosions rang out every minute during the night.

Almost 6,500 residents were evacuated from the settlement of Nagorny around five kilometres from the depot where the force of the explosions smashed windows, the emergency ministry said.

President Vladimir Putin -- at a meeting with the emergency situations minister and regional governor -- ordered payments of 10,000 rubles ($311) to cover immediate costs to each evacuated person.

The depot contained around 18 million shells, the regional Investigative Committee said in a statement.

Television footage showed blown-out glass and window-frames and unexploded shells lying in yards and on the roads leading to Nagorny.

A section of the highway between the cities of Samara and Volgograd was shut off because of shrapnel and unexploded shells, Channel One state television reported,

"We were driving along and then there was an explosion and the force of it blew out all the windows in the carm" a bloodied casualty told Rossiya 24.

A total of 48 people needed medical treatment and 11 were hospitalised, the regional Investigative Committee said.

There were no reports of deaths.

Russian television showed victims with bandaged heads and limbs. An ambulance worker told Rossiya 24 that most of the injured were in cars, which had glass fly out of windows or even overturned.

The emergency situations ministry used aircraft to drop water on the fire, which had spread to surrounding forests.

The situation had stabilised on Wednesday, the ministry said, with explosions ceasing around 6 am (0200 GMT), while fire continued to smoulder at the depot.

Samara regional police said the explosions began during work aimed at disposing of the old shells.

However, the emergency situations ministry said there had been "unsanctioned explosions of munitions".

Regional investigators launched a criminal probe into a breach of safety regulations.

Such accidents occur frequently at Russian arms depots that store vast stockpiles of old munitions in primitive conditions with little regard to public safety, and often close to settlements.

In October 2012, a depot containing 4,000 tonnes of munitions exploded in the Urals region, causing thousands of people to be evacuated.

In May 2012, a similar incident caused the death of six soldiers in the Nizhny Novgorod region of central Russia.

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