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Nine dead after blasts at Kazakhstan arms depot

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Flames and smoke rise after powerful blasts at a military warehouse in Zhambyl Province, Kazakhstan, on August 26, 2021.

Nine people have died following explosions at an arms depot in southern Kazakhstan and four others were feared dead, the Central Asian country's emergencies ministry said Friday.

The ministry's statement mentioned emergency services workers and military staff among victims of the blasts that tore through a defense ministry ammunitions depot in the southern region of Jambyl on Thursday. It added that four people were missing.

The blasts began Thursday at a defense ministry ammunitions depot in the southern region of Jambyl, leaving scores injured and nearby villages evacuated by authorities.

A video shared on the Telegram messaging app showed a column of smoke billowing from a fire before a powerful explosion sent flames shooting out. Another video showed debris flying through the sky in long arcs as the fire raged. 

The defense ministry said that a fire had broken out at the Jambyl ammunitions depot and "quickly spread to storage facilities where engineering ammunition is stored."

Several explosions followed, the defense ministry said.

"The explosions stopped over time, but the fire continues," the statement added. 

Regular incidents at Kazakhstan’s Soviet-era military depots have proved a headache for the government in recent years, with another depot near the southern town of Arys seeing three lethal explosions take place in the last decade.

 A screengrab from amateur footage of the blast

The defense ministry noted that some of the munitions stored at the Soviet-era depot in Jambyl had been transferred from the facility in Arys, where there have been calls to resettle the town's entire population of 45,000.

Arson probe

The emergencies ministry said that the scattering radius of the fragments was up to two kilometers (1.25 miles).

"According to preliminary data, more than 500 tonnes of trinitrotoluene (TNT) were stored in the warehouse," the ministry said.

The defense ministry said that two of the men who died were part of a fire brigade at the base who were attempting to put out the blaze, while a third was guarding the depot at the time of the explosions. 

Defense Minister Nurlan Ermekbayev said Friday that he would leave his post over the incident if President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev accepted his resignation.

The Jambyl regional government said that of more than 80 who received treatment for injuries, 28 remained in hospital with six in serious condition.

But "their lives are not in danger," the statement said.

On Thursday, President Tokayev had said on Twitter that the injured were soldiers and emergency services workers.

Local authorities said more than 80 children were among those evacuated from nearby villages following the incident. Around 1,200 people were taken to schools in Taraz, a city of over 300,000 people, which is about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the facility. 

A government commission has been set up to establish the cause of the fire, while Ermekbayev said arson was being considered as a potential trigger for the blaze. 

(Source: AFP)

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