Safety fears delay search for survivors at Congo blast site


Flags flew at half-mast in Congo’s capital Wednesday as the country mourned nearly 200 victims of the blasts at a munitions dump there, but safety fears were still delaying the search for more survivors. Red Cross workers had been kept away from the Mpila barracks site in the east of Brazzaville, as experts carried out more checks for unexploded munitions, officials said.
“It’s not easy,” defence ministry spokesman Colonel Jean-Robert Obargui told AFP by phone. “We are talking after all about a munitions explosion… It’s difficult to go there as long as we have not studied the sector,” he added. Army officers and experts from the international Mines Advisory Group (MAG), which specialises in demining work, had inspected the site on Tuesday, said Obargui.
A statement posted on MAG’s website Tuesday said they were working with the Congolese army to make the site safe by cooling down depots, homes and other hazardous areas. The armouries in the area appeared to have been destroyed in the blast, Lionel Cattaneo, MAG’s technical expert in Brazzaville, said. Their main concern now was the danger that unexploded rockets, mortars and other ordnance — scattered across the city by the force of the initial explosions — could still kill unwary civilians.
“If tampered with, they can kill. Children, who are naturally inquisitive, are usually most at risk,” said Cattaneo.
“We are concerned about the presence of unexploded devices,” said a statement from the president of the Congolese Red Cross, Christian Sedar Ndinga. But he added: “We hope to be able to get access very quickly to recover any possible wounded and bodies.”
As well as killing nearly 200 people, Sunday’s disaster left more than 1,300 wounded. The explosions, blamed on a short-circuit and fire, flattened hundreds of houses in Brazzaville, leaving more than 5,000 people homeless. The blasts were felt as far away as Kinshasa, the capital of the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, across the Congo river. In the district around the Mpila barracks of the armoured regiment, soldiers were still restricting access to the area, letting only those who lived there pass.