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Blasts at a military complex: death toll soars to 98 in Equatorial Guinea

MALABO, Equatorial Guinea: At least 98 people have died from injuries sustained in a series of explosions in Equatorial Guinea, the health ministry said on Monday after volunteers searched the rubble for bodies.

The number of people killed in the blasts in Bata more than tripled from the initial estimates. The president attributed the explosions to “negligence” and ordered a probe into the incident.

The new death toll is more than triple the earlier estimate of 31 killed in the Sunday afternoon blasts at a military complex in the coastal city of Bata. Both civilians and military personnel were among the victims.

At least 615 people were injured, out of which 299 remained hospitalized, the health ministry wrote on Twitter, citing the vice-presidency.

Television station TVGE showed Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue visiting a hospital in Bata where the victims of the blast were being treated.

Local media reports showed children being pulled out from underneath the piles of broken concrete and twisted metal, as well as bodies wrapped in sheets lined up on the side of the road.

The health ministry also tweeted earlier in the day that it had prepared a “mental health brigade” made up of psychiatrists, psychologists, and nurses to attend to the victims of the explosion in Bata.

“Because the damages are not only physical but also mental,” the ministry said.

There were four explosions that rocked the Central African country’s largest city and main economic hub on Sunday. The initial explosion happened around 1 pm local time (1200 UTC/GMT).

A fire near a weapons depot at the city’s Nkoantoma Military Base is believed to have caused the blasts.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the vice president’s father, attributed the blasts to “negligence and inattention” related to the handling of dynamite.

Depots holding explosives ignited “when neighbours at nearby farms lit fires,” and flames spread to the barracks, he said.

Equatorial Guinea is a small country of some 1.4 million, with the majority of the population living in poverty despite rich oil reserves.

Obiang Nguema issued a plea for international aid, saying that the disaster comes at an already difficult time for Equatorial Guinea, “due to the economic crisis caused by falling petrol prices, and the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Obiang’s son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, vice president with responsibility for defence and security, appeared in the television footage at the scene inspecting the damage, accompanied by his Israeli bodyguards. Teodorin, as he is known, is increasingly seen as the designated successor of the 78-year-old president.