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Russian town evacuated after explosions at ammunition depot

06 August 2019

Thousands have been evacuated from a Siberian town after an ammunition depot on a military base caught fire, triggering huge explosions that sent shrapnel flying for miles around. One soldier was killed and at least seven other people have been injured, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

The soldier's death was later  denied by a Defence Ministry source, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.

An estimated 40,000 tank and artillery shells were kept on the base in Achinsk, a Siberian city 2,000 miles east of Moscow. TASS said that 14,000 people have been evacuated to a distance of 12.5 miles from the base.

Siberia has also been hit by wildfires this summer, made worse by warming temperatures and a lack of rainfall.

The Achinsk ammunition store is one of the oldest in the Russian armed forces' ordnance network and was due to be dismantled by 2022, Tass quoted the defence ministry as saying.

Human error is being considered as the preliminary cause of the explosions, Deputy Defense Minister Dmitry Bulgakov was cited by Interfax as saying. Prosecutors and investigators will work to establish why the series of blasts were triggered, he added.

The fires that have been raging for hours are expected to be extinguished by the end of August 6, Bulgakov was quoted as saying by the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

The military has deployed robots to battle the flames. Bulgakov said that 70 sappers will also be sent to the region from Moscow to help in clearing any remaining ammunition. Explosions at ammunition dumps can send unexploded shells flying for miles around, requiring a significant clean-up effort before locals can return to their homes.

Rusal, the world's largest aluminium producer outside China, said it suspended operations at its Achinsk plant and evacuated all but essential staff to ensure their safety. The plant is Russia's largest producer of alumina, a raw material which is smelted into aluminium.

Loading is operating on schedule at Russian oil giant Rosneft's Achinsk oil refinery 30 kilometers from the base, TASS news agency quoted a refinery spokesperson as saying.

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