A series of blasts leveled arms depots at a Tanzanian army base and killed at least 17 people, Tanzanian Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda said yesterday, in the second such incident in two years.
The blasts, which the prime minister said also left at least 145 people wounded, went off inside the Gongo la Mboto army base in Dar es Salaam late on Wednesday and destroyed several arms and ammunition depots.
“By this morning, there were 13 bodies at Amana hospital, two at Temeke hospital and two more at Muhimbili national hospital,” he told parliament in a session aired live on state radio. “The death toll might rise when we ascertain the full extent of the damage caused by the explosions.”
By press time last night the death toll had increased to 20.
Pinda said he had convened an emergency security meeting over the blasts and added that the country’s armed forces were investigating the incident.
Pinda said that about 4,000 people residing in the army base’s vicinity fled their homes and had found shelter in a large stadium.
The blasts started going off on Wednesday at about 8pm in one ammunition depot and quickly spread to other arms depots in the same base.
Two nearby residential housing units and a secondary school were destroyed by the explosions, the prime minister said.
There was no indication of foul play and such incidents have happened before in Tanzania.
In April 2009, 26 people were killed and hundreds wounded by a string of powerful blasts at an arms depot in Dar es Salaam, which officials said were accidental.
The series of explosions showered the entire city with debris and shrapnel, causing a panic among the population and bringing back memories of the 1998 bombing of the US embassy.
According to a US Department of State briefing released in the aftermath of the 2009 disaster, the frequency of such incidents around the world is increasing.
“Poorly maintained, improperly stored or inadequately guarded conventional weapons and munitions pose as significant a humanitarian challenge as the well-known threat of landmines and other explosive remnants of war left uncleared from past conflicts,” it said.