DAKAR (AlertNet) – A massive blast at a munitions depot in Congo Republic’s capital city this month has left unexploded devices scattered throughout densely populated neighbourhoods, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned.
More than 300 people were killed and around 2,300 injured when a fire at a munitions depot in the centre of Brazzaville triggered huge explosions on March 4 that flattened nearby buildings and blew out windows more than 5 kilometres (3 miles) away.
ICRC ordnance disposal experts are working with the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre to help the Congolese authorities remove hazardous debris from a wide area.
"The main thing now is to clear those areas as quickly as possible so that the people who live or work there and want to go back can do so without danger,” Bernard Metraux, the head of the ICRC mission in Brazzaville said in a statement.
The explosion left around 14,000 people homeless. Some are living in camps set up by the government and others with relatives.
But many people are still living in contaminated areas. The ICRC is working in two of the hardest hit districts which are home to an estimated 350,000 people.
Handicap International, which has also sent disposal experts to the area, said unexploded grenades and other munitions had been projected in a wide circle, over a distance of 4-6 km from the depot, posing a major threat to thousands of civilians raking through rubble to recover items spared by the blast.
Congolese Red Cross volunteers are using brochures and posters to warn people of the dangers of unexploded devices.
“The message is that if you see such a device, don’t touch it. Call … and experts will come and clear it,” Maria Puy Serra, an ICRC spokeswoman in Brazzaville, told AlertNet by phone.
ICRC has provided specially equipped ambulance and medical staff trained for mine-clearance operations to disposal teams.
The depot, a leftover from the 1997 civil war, was the biggest in the country and held bombs as large as 250kg (550lb), according to experts.
ICRC said 288 corpses at the Brazzaville mortuary have so far been identified and 15 are unidentified, but an unknown number of bodies are still hidden under the wreckage. ICRC staff specialised in forensic medicine and tracing are supporting local efforts to identify victims.
The incident triggered widespread public criticism of Congo's government for allowing the depot to remain near residential areas.