Hospital fills with casualties after Kinshasa airport blast

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The Independent Online

Distraught relatives milled through the hallways of a hospital overwhelmed by the dead and injured after explosions rocked the airport at Kinshasa in the Congo, killing an undetermined number of people and seriously wounding dozens more.

State-run radio reported that a short circuit sparked a fire at an army munitions depot, triggering a series of explosions that shattered all the windows of the airport terminale radio said.

Several buildings were set ablaze.

U.N. sources in New York said there were unconfirmed reports that at least 27 people were injured. State radio said some people were killed, but did not specify the number.

An airport official, however, said the fire and explosions were triggered by a soldier who dropped ammunition while unloading a plane full of weapons. That explosion set fire to the fuel depot, from which flames spread to the munitions depot, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was not possible to independently confirm either account.

U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst, speaking in New York, said the explosions involved a Boeing 707, though he did not know any further details about it.

Secondary explosions persisted for more than two hours as ammunition blew up, showering the area with shrapnel, radio reported.

Ambulances raced back and forth between the airport and city hospitals, ferrying the injured.

The Kinshasa General Hospital was swamped by the number of dead and injured, said staff members who declined to give numbers. Distraught relatives waited in hallways and clustered around the emergency room hoping to get news of the missing.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe, also speaking in New York, said the world body had offered to help transport the injured.

The explosions set off a brief panic in Kinshasa, where people who live near the airport fled their homes for the city center fearing that Congolese rebels might have reached the capital.

In Brazzaville, the capital of neighboring Republic of Congo, residents gathered along the Congo River to watch flames from the explosion shooting into the air.

Officials in both countries urged residents to remain calm.

The airport was sealed off by soldiers and police.

It was not clear if the explosions were related to Congo's 20-month civil war, which the government of President Laurent Kabila has been fighting with a variety of rebel armies backed by Uganda and Rwanda.

The civil war in the country formerly called Zaire erupted a year after Kabila overthrew the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

A cease-fire agreement was signed July 10 by Kabila and his allies - Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia - and by Rwanda and Uganda, who are backing the rebels. The main rebel factions signed on in the weeks that followed.

But fighting continues with the warring sides accusing each other of violations of cease-fires, the latest of which was agreement on April 8.