A massive explosion ripped through a Cypriot naval base today after a brush fire detonated stored gunpowder, killing 12, wounding 62 and prompting the resignations of the country's defence minister and top military chief.
Bodies covered with white sheets lay scattered on a charred hillside near the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base on the island's southern coast, while ambulances ferried the injured to hospitals in Larnaca and Limassol. The bodies of the dead where taken to a morgue at Nicosia hospital in the Cypriot capital.
The blast occurred in the early hours of the morning the fire reached dozens of storage containers holding gunpowder that had been confiscated in 2009 from a ship heading from Iran to Syria.
With criticism mounting over how the material had been handled and stored, Defence Minister Costas Papacostas and the country's top military official, National Guard chief General Petros Tsalikides, resigned.
A government spokesman said investigators had ruled out sabotage as a cause for the blast. He said experts will be called from abroad to help determine the exact cause of the explosion.
President Dimitris Christofias had asked Tsalikides and Papacostas to remain in their posts until replacements were found.
The government has declared a three-day mourning period with all flags at public buildings flying at half staff. State funerals will be held for those killed.
The concussion wave from the blast damaged houses in nearby villages, and knocked out the island's main power station, leading to power cuts in several areas. Authorities appealed to the public to limit their electricity consumption, which has spiked amid a three-day heatwave that has led to temperatures of about 40C.
Airport authorities said both Paphos and Larnaca airports were reducing power consumption to the minimum possible and had turned on their generators.
The Agriculture Ministry also urged the public to reduce water consumption as much as possible because desalination plants had been taken offline due to power problems.
The blast occurred just one day shy of the ninth anniversary of a fatal national guard helicopter crash that killed then National Guard commander Evangelos Florakis - for which the naval base is named - and four other officers.