Republic of Congo: Ammunition Depot Blasts Stir Panic in Brazzaville

On Sunday, March 4, 2012, at 8am local time, an ammunition storage depot caught fire in the Mpida area of Brazzaville, near the Presidential Palace, causing at least four explosions. Houses in the neighborhood collapsed, creating an atmosphere of panic in the city.

The Defense Minister made the following declaration on national television [li and fr]:

C'est juste un incident provoqué par l'incendie du dépôt de nos munitions. C'est pourquoi il y a eu des détonations. Certaines maisons ont été touchées par des éclats, leurs tôles envolées et des vitres brisées. C'est l'incendie du régiment blindé, lieu où nous conservons nos munitions, qui est à la base de tous ces dégâts. Pendant que je vous parle ici, nos experts se sont déployés sur le terrain pour éteindre le feu. Nous prendrons des mesures pour que les incidents de ce genre ne surviennent plus dans l'avenir. Nous présentons nos excuses aux hommes et aux femmes, à tous les frères et soeurs, pour ce trouble à la paix : des gens étaient paniqués, allant de gauche à droite. Nous vous prions de regagner vos domiciles car l'incident est maîtrisé. Nous vous rassurons qu'il ne s'agit pas d'une mutinerie, encore moins d'un coup d'Etat. Il s'agit juste d'un malheureux incident que nous regrettons. Nous avons appris aussi qu'il y a des blessés – ils ne sont pas nombreux – dus à ces éclats. Nous le regrettons.

It's just an incident caused by a fire in our ammunition storage depot. That is why there have been explosions. Some homes were damaged by the explosions that caused roofs to fly off and break window panes. It is this fire in the armored regiment, where we keep our ammunition, that caused all this damage. As we speak, our experts are deployed on the ground to extinguish the fire. We will take steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future. We apologize to all men and women, to all brothers and sisters, for this disturbance of the peace: people were running around in a panic. Please return to your homes, because the situation is under control. We assure you that this is not a mutiny, much less a coup. It's just an unfortunate incident that we regret. We learned also that have been some casualties – though not many – due to these blasts. We are sorry.

The exact number of casualties is unclear at the moment, but according to several sources, hundreds might have lost their lives, and thousands wounded. The government first mentioned four casualties, and dozens wounded, an underestimated toll, according to Fortuné Ndombé, a Congolese journalist based in Brazzaville. The author contacted Ndombé by phone and he explained the situation at the time [fr]:

Je suis actuellement au CHU de Brazzaville. C'est une catastrophe on n'a jamais vu ça. Il y a encore des feux, beaucoup de maisons sont effondrées, c'est un vrai désastre. on n'arrive pas à expliquer ce qui s'est passé. (…) La situation pas encore maitrisée. Le gouvernment laissait croire qu'il n y a pas de morts, mais il ya plusieurs morts. Les hopitaux submergés. Je déplore que presque toutes les pharmacies soient fermées. Il faudrait les réquisitionner pour que les malades recoivent des médicaments. C'est peut-être demain que nous en saurons un peu plus. Si quelqu'un vous dit que la situation est maitrisée, ce sont des mensonges.

I am currently at the University Hospital of Brazzaville. This is a disaster of proportions unlike anything we have ever seen. There are still fires, many houses collapsed, it's a real disaster. We cannot explain what happened. (…) The situation is still not under control. The government gave the impression that there are no deaths, but there are several fatalities. Hospitals are overwhelmed. I regret that almost all pharmacies are closed. They should be requisitioned so that patients receive medications. It's probably only tomorrow that we'll know a little more. If someone tells you that the situation is under control, that is a lie.

This assessment of the situation is shared by Twitter user @BaaRbieCaRteR, who writes:

@BaaRbieCaRteR:  4 morts 24 blessés !! Vous vous foutez de la gueule de qui ????! Ya plus de 300 morts ! On se croirait en Irak

4 killed 24 wounded! Who the hell are you kidding??! There are more than 300 dead! It's like Iraq around here

She also posted the following photo, allegedly taken just after the second blast:

The second explosion in Brazzaville by BaaRbieCaRteR on Twitter

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