Search for Congo survivors delayed by safety concerns

Fears of more unexploded munitions at a Congo arms depot where a series of blasts killed nearly 200 people have delayed the search for more wounded, officials said on Wednesday.

Work to make the munitions dump safe were delayed so experts could carry out more exploratory work in the sector, defence ministry spokesperson Colonel Jean-Robert Obargui said.

But that means that Red Cross workers cannot yet get to the Mpila barracks site in the east of Brazzaville, he said.

“It’s not easy. We are talking after all about a munitions explosion ... It’s difficult to go there as long as we have not studied the sector,” Obargui said.

Army officers and experts from the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), which specialises in demining work, had inspected the site on Tuesday, he added.

“We hope to be able to get access very quickly to recover any possible wounded and bodies,” said a statement from the president of the Congolese Red Cross, Christian Sedar Ndinga.

Working in tandem with the army
A statement posted on MAG’s website on Tuesday said they were working with the Congolese army to make the site safe by cooling down depots, homes and other hazardous areas.

As well as killing nearly 200 people, Sunday’s disaster also 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 to those who lived there.

Some people there were still trying to salvage their possessions from what was left of their homes.

“I’m ruined,” said retired businessman, Benigno Abel Elenga. “It’s wiped me out.” He had built houses there in 1967 and had been living off the rents, he explained.

“In 1997 [after the civil war] they promised us compensation, which didn’t come. I don’t believe in it any more,” he said.

He would be returning to his home in Cuvette, in the north of the country, he added.

“At least there, with a boat and a hammock, I’ll be able to eat fish.”

Time to clean up
Nearby, bulldozers and diggers were starting to clear away the rubble as the emergency services kept an eye on the site.

The occasional crackle of light weapons munitions could still be heard but people were no longer panicked into running for cover at every minor explosion, as they had been on Monday, the day after the devastating blasts.

Flags were flying at half-mast in the capital as the country mourned its dead.

“Mourning started on Tuesday and our flags remain at half-mast,” government spokesperson Bienvenu Okiemy said on national radio.

The mourning period is due to last until the victims of the explosions have been buried, a date that has not yet been fixed.—AFP

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