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Three missing in Bulgaria arms depot blasts

07 June 2012

Three workers were missing and nine injured after a series of blasts that rocked an old munitions depot in eastern Bulgaria on June 5. The explosions were at a depot owned by a private company and used for storing old ammunition near the eastern village of Lozenets, a government statement said.

A search for three workers in the workshop where the first explosion occurred came up empty handed, and deputy chief prosecutor Boyko Naydenov said nothing was left of the building and that it was highly unlikely that any of the three workers had survived the massive blast.

A daily shift of 21 workers was employed dismantling old munitions at the site, and 18 managed to escape by themselves or with the help of rescuers.

It was still unclear what caused the blasts, which continued to rock the area for hours, sparking several large fires and prompting authorities to evacuate Lozenets and divert all traffic from a major highway intersection near the area.

Two shells also landed in the courtyard of a house in the village of Gorno Alexandrovo, several kilometres from the depot, forcing more evacuations.

According to Prof. Nikolay Miloshev, Director of the Geophysics Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the blasts caused tremors with a magnitude of 1.5 on the Richter Scale.

Desislav Delev, the owner of Bereta Trading, which ran the site, reassured people on state media that the plumes of smoke did not contain any dangerous chemicals, as the depot stored only conventional weapons.

About 15,000 tonnes of munitions from the Warsaw Pact era between 1995-1991 are stored in Bulgarian defence ministry and private depots awaiting destruction. But lack of funds has delayed the process.

Munitions blasts rocked two other depots in 2008 and 2011 but caused no casualties.

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