DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — A military ammunition depot in Tanzania’s largest city blew up overnight in a series of explosions that leveled homes, killed at least 25 people and wounded about 145 others. Thousands ran for their lives, and 200 children have been unable to find their parents.
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Several houses and a school were leveled during Wednesday night’s explosions, which sent huge orange bursts into the night sky over Dar es Salaam. Debris showered parts of the city 10 miles (15 kilometers) from the Gongola Mboto military base where the depot was located.
It was at least the second such ammunition depot explosion at a military base in Dar es Salaam since 2009.
Abdallah Shimbo, the army’s chief of staff, said Thursday that 25 people died from the blasts. A military spokesman said the explosions were accidental but gave no details. A hospital administrator, Mussa Wambura, said about 145 people were injured, some “badly hit by the blasts.”
The blasts closed the city’s international airport, near the Gongola Mboto military base. Some 4,000 residents were evacuated to the national stadium in Dar es Salaam, which lies along the Indian Ocean in East Africa.
When the explosions hit, thousands of people living in nearby neighborhoods fled, said Julius Kejo, a Red Cross worker helping at a shelter for displaced people. The blasts sent residents scrambling in all directions, scattering families and separating parents from their children.
“It was panic. It was many people moving away, because it happened in the night, thousands of people moving,” Kejo said. “People were just running, so some children were lost in the mobs of people. Now at the centers we are trying to get them connected with their relatives.”
Hidan Ricco, the head of Tanzania’s Red Cross disaster management team, said there were about 200 unaccompanied children at the stadium, some of whom are only months old.
“We can’t figure out how these children ended up here,” he said. “We don’t know where are their mothers.”
Selina Chacha, 30, was looking for two her boys – ages 8 and 10 – at the stadium.
“I’m so sad that my children are still missing. I have been running up and down looking for my them but they are nowhere to be found,” Chacha said, whose house was only 1 mile (2 kilometers) from the blasts.
Stella Philip, 23, was at home cooking when the explosions began. Her daughter Habiba Saleh, 8, who was playing outside at the time, is missing.
“I have not seen such deafening blasts in my life,” she said. “After the blasts everyone ran for his life.”
The military on Thursday continued to move people away from depots where munitions that haven’t detonated are stored, Kejo said. “Even today they are telling people to get out of the area,” he said.
The military spokesman, Lt. Col. Kapambala Mgawe, said some buildings were still burning on Thursday.
The president visited the site of the blasts and met with victims. He tried to assure a still-jittery public that no more blasts would take place.
Felician Luchagula, a 32-year-old health-related development worker, said he heard blasts beginning at around 9 p.m. Wednesday. They continued for several hours.
“People are getting scared of what may happen to them. People are scared that if they live near a military base it might happen again,” he said.
An accident at a Dar es Salaam military base in 2009 killed more than a dozen people.