Siberian munitions depot blast kills at least seven and shuts key rail link

Huge explosions sparked by wildfire forces mass evacuationand shuts key railway

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2014, 8:58pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2014, 8:58pm

Explosions caused by a fire at a munitions depot in eastern Siberia killed at least seven people and closed a section of the Trans-Siberian railway, local authorities said.

Engineers found a truck with 10 corpses in the early hours yesterday, a Defence Ministry spokesman told Rossiya-24 television, which carried pictures of flames swirling high in the night sky and turning it red.

The blaze broke out on Tuesday at the depot near Bolshaya Tura village, 6,200 kilometres southeast of Moscow, caused by a wildfire raging nearby. More than 1,000 residents were evacuated, the local Emergencies Ministry said.

As the wildfire spread, a logistics officer decided to evacuate those guarding the depot but the group were hit by another explosion as they tried to escape and died within minutes, spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

A further 17 people were injured in the blaze, the local Zabaikalsky Krai government said on its website.

The railroad operator said trains between Chita and Karymskaya were temporarily stopped for "security reasons," but by Wednesday morning trains were running again, Interfax news agency reported.

The Trans-Siberian railway, linking Russia's western regions with ports in Russia's far east, is an export route for Russian commodities. Up to a third of the freight carried on the railway is Russian coal being exported to the Asia-Pacific region.

Fires at munitions depots are not uncommon in the former Soviet Union and are often blamed on negligence.

Blasts at the vast number of munitions stores across Russia holding defunct explosives dating from the cold war are a relatively common occurrence due to ageing infrastructure and lax observance of safety rules as well as their locations close to residential areas.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse