Blast at weapons depot triggers evacuation of 44,000 amid fears unexploded shells could turn town's streets into minefields

At least one person dead and dozens injured, Kazakh government says

Tom Embury-Dennis
Monday 24 June 2019 16:30 BST
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Video shows smoke billowing in distance after huge explosion at weapons factory in Kazakhstan

A town of 44,000 people has been evacuated in Kazakhstan after a series of huge explosions at a nearby weapons depot killed at least one person and injured dozens more, authorities said.

The blasts occurred on Monday at a military base near Arys in the Central Asian country's southern Turkestan province, which features a large Soviet-era storage facility for explosive munitions.

A video posted online shows locals running from the scene as massive clouds of smoke and dust rise into the sky behind them, accompanied by the sound of thunder-like booms.

Another video shows agitated soldiers screaming profanities as they run out of the military base in full gear, stepping on shattered glass.

They can be seen stopping two cars on a nearby highway and ordering the drivers to take away several civilian women they had escorted out of the facility. The soldiers drop to the ground as more explosions are heard.

The cause of the fire which led to the explosions was unclear. Similar incidents in the area, in 2009, 2014 and 2015, were blamed on negligence and failure to observe safety regulations.

Provincial governor Umirzak Shukeyev told a briefing one person had been killed and 31 injured. The authorities warned locals against trying to return to the town because unexploded shells could turn its streets into minefields.

"The scale (of fires) is very large and this could go on for a few days," Mr Shukeyev said.

Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev wrote on Twitter he had ordered the government to ensure the safety of the local population and investigate the cause of the blasts.

Mr Tokayev is heading to Arys himself, along with senior officials, his spokesman said.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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