The international airport in Dar es Salaam was closed last night, when a series of explosions rocked a nearby military base once again, the last such blasts having occurred in 2009. Information, though sketchy, from Dar indicates that as many as several hundred people may have been injured when debris and shell fragments rained on them from the skies, as the explosions continued unabated for hours. Firefighting services and army personnel were unable at the time to approach the ammunitions dumps for fear of their own lives but eventually set up a wide cordon, thought to be between 10–15 kilometers wide around the army base, not letting people into the cordoned off area and trying to evacuate people living within the perimeter.
Regular airline sources were swift to decline answering questions about the airport closure, with only one actually citing “fear from above” if he would be found as a source of information on “such a sensitive case, more as it is the second time this happen.” However, other sources did confirm that the explosions were heard across the entire city and blast waves were felt. It was also ascertained that major hotels immediately stepped up security as did foreign missions, while speculation rose to a fever pitch over the cause of the explosions. Said one reliable source in frequent contact with this correspondent: “I think we can rule out terrorism here.
“The same base had similar explosions some year or so ago, and it was an accident then and is likely a case of serious negligence resulting in another accident now. Why they are keeping such ammunition dumps so close to the city, so close to the airport; it, however, [is] something government here must address. Have they learned nothing from the deaths and injuries of the last such tragic event? They should move the ammunitions away from heavily-populated areas immediately. If you report this, do make sure people understand this was not a terror incident but an accident the way I see it.”
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office reacted promptly, too, sending out a flash notice to British citizens living in Dar es Salaam to be extra cautious, citing a general warning on terror threats and possibilities of indiscriminate attacks on places frequented by expatriates and foreign visitors.
Further updates will be available during the course of the morning when undoubtedly the major media will pick up the story and start their own reporting on it.
UPDATE ON ARMY BASE EXPLOSION NEAR DAR ES SALAAM’S JULIUS NYERERE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Information received from Dar at present pegs the death toll “near 20,” with reportedly hundreds of people, both from the base as well as from residential areas within a radius of several miles, injured.
The hospitals are not confirming details by phone on how many of those are, in fact, in critical condition, giving further indication that they are having both their hands full with the injured, as well as been advised to avoid talking to the media.
Several thousand evacuees are, according to another source, assembled and kept at the national stadium in Dar, awaiting information from the authorities as to when they can return to their homes, many of which have, of course, been damaged if not destroyed, especially those near the explosion site – an ammunition dump at a major army base behind the international airport on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam. There is apprehension among those evacuated over possible looting, as it happened in a similar incident in April 2009, when thieves and robbers were swift to take advantage of the ensuing chaos with police and other security services pre-occupied with dealing with the explosion and evacuations.
Following the initial explosion at one depot, the fire then seems to have spread and exploding ammunitions, mines, and rockets then set yet more depots on fire causing additional explosions in the process – indicating that no lessons about keeping ammo dumps better protected and further apart were learned from earlier such incidents.
Meanwhile it has also been “leaked” that for safety reasons, operations at the Julius Nyerere International Airport will remain suspended until all fires are out and the remaining unexploded ordinances have been dealt with, been secured or safely transported away from the explosion site.
Air traffic bound for Dar has reportedly been diverted to the Kilimanjaro International Airport or flights were landing in Kenya when clearances – in view of the fluid situation – were withdrawn and aircraft advised to seek alternate landing points.
Watch this space for further updates as and when available.