A series of explosions at military barracks in Equatorial Guinea has killed at least 20 people and wounded more than 600 others, authorities said.
TVGE read out a statement from President Teodoro Obiang Nguema which said the explosions were due to the “negligent handling of dynamite” in the barracks located in the neighbourhood of Mondong Nkuantoma in Bata. He said that the explosion occurred at 4pm local time.
“The impact of the explosion caused damage in almost all the houses and buildings in Bata,” the president said.
The defence ministry released a statement late on Sunday saying that a fire in a weapons depot caused the explosion of high-calibre ammunition. It said the provisional toll was 20 dead and 600 injured, adding that the cause of the explosions will be fully investigated.
Earlier, the Health Ministry had tweeted that 17 were killed and the president’s statement mentioned 15 dead.
Equatorial Guinea, a tiny West African country of 1.3 million people located south of Cameroon, was a colony of Spain until it gained independence in 1968.
State television showed a huge plume of smoke rising above the site of the explosion as crowds fled, with many people crying out “we don’t know what happened, but it is all destroyed”.
The Health Ministry made a call for blood donors and volunteer health workers to go to the Regional Hospital de Bata, one of three hospitals treating the wounded.
The ministry tweeted that its health workers are treating the injured at the site of the tragedy and in medical facilities, but feared people were still missing under the rubble.
Images on local media showed people screaming and crying running through the streets amid debris and smoke. Roofs of houses were ripped off and wounded people were being carried into a hospital.
The blasts were a shock for the oil rich Central African nation. Foreign Minister Simeon Oyono Esono Angue met foreign ambassadors and asked for aid.
“It is important for us to ask our brother countries for their assistance in this lamentable situation since we have a health emergency (due to Covid-19) and the tragedy in Bata,” he said.
A doctor calling into TVGE, who went by his first name, Florentino, said the situation was a “moment of crisis” and that the hospitals were overcrowded. He said a sports centre set up for Covid-19 patients would be used to receive minor cases.
Radio station, Radio Macuto, said on Twitter that people were being evacuated within four kilometres of the city because the fumes might be harmful.
Following the blast, the Spanish embassy in Equatorial Guinea recommended on Twitter that “Spanish nationals stay in their homes”.