Brazzaville in shock after deadly blast

2012-03-05 07:32
Brazzaville - Van Kampa, 14, surveyed the grim scene in the grounds of Brazzaville Cathedral early on Monday, his head still ringing from a massive arms depot blast in the Congolese capital that left 146 people dead.

"The noise of the explosions is still in my head, I can't remember what happened very well," the bewildered youngster said after Sunday's massive blast, apparently caused by an electrical short circuit.

Van, his baby sister and the rest of the family had not eaten since Sunday morning and were spending the night near the cathedral as the Red Cross distributed meals for locals who fled the area after the series of explosions.

The army sealed off the area as several witnesses cast doubt of the official toll figure of 146.

"There were 200 recruits in the barracks and more than 100 people in the church of St Louis, which collapsed. And houses collapsed with whole families inside," said one resident who asked not to be named.

The smell of gunpowder was everywhere with the sound of continued small explosions. "Must be bullets," a neighbour said in the midst of a scene of collapsed walls, missing roofs and gutted houses.

Hundreds of people were crunching through the broken glass in search of their remaining possessions, while others struggled through the streets with their mattresses, lamps and televisions loaded on makeshift sleds.

Bricklayer Jean-Roger Bondimbe spoke of "the horror" he had just witnessed.

Reduced to rubble

"When the explosions began we ran out onto the street to escape, the whole family. There were mortars, explosions.

"My younger brother was hit in the head. He's dead, We left his body and ran. The Red Cross told me they would bring his body to the morgue. My heart is broken... I have no news of my mother and grandmother," he cried.

"I've lost everything," he continued, before adding "my wife and my son are here".

At street corners people set up watch teams to put off looters.

Ines Kiang, Eudes Nkodia and Cyril Ondie stood staring at the remains of their home.

"Everything has been reduced to rubble; the barracks, the school, the houses. My house is riddled with holes," said Kiang.

Police and military patrols circulated continually, also to prevent looting according to one soldier.

At Brazzaville's teaching hospital hundreds of the wounded were crowded into wards and overflowing corridors.

"This place was already inadequate. Look at it now," one nurse said, without giving his name.

Two women shared a single bed while nearby a man was crying in a corridor.

Suzanne Oulalembe, attached to a drip, lay patiently on the ground.

"It's the politicians' fault"

Behind a screen another woman was dying.

Five-year-old Elie Monegue, who had a blood-stained bandage around her head, was also attached to a glucose drip but had managed to drift to sleep in the arms of an aunt who was sat on a bench.

The young girl's mother explained that another daughter had received a leg wound while her son was in the operating theatre.

Throughout the hospital, patients, relatives and medical personnel criss-crossed in confusion amid the anguished requests for painkillers and the pools of blood.

Francis Mbongo, a soldier who had come to visit his parents in the Mpila neighbourhood had no doubt who was to blame for the carnage.

"It's the politicians' fault," he said.

"An arms dump in the middle of town, It should be a hundred kilometres away. It's a disgrace!"

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