BRAZZAVILLE — Congo issued a plea for international help Monday as soldiers recovered bodies from an area devastated by huge blasts at a munitions depot that killed more than 150 people and left 1,000 injured.
President Denis Sassou Nguesso announced a curfew in the capital Brazzaville and cordoned off the area around the devastated eastern district of Mpila.
The government said an electrical short-circuit likely caused a fire which triggered a series of blasts so powerful they destroyed scores of houses and even blew out windows in Kinshasa, the capital of the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo situated across the Congo river.
Soldiers combing the wreckage of homes in the Mpila area of the city recovered at least six bodies early Monday, an AFP correspondent at the scene said, amid fears more would be found in the densely populated area.
"We have more than 150 people dead, which is a provisional figure... We have more than 1,000 injured," Interior Minister Raymond Mboulou told AFP.
The minister described the scenes of devastation in the streets surrounding the military barracks as "a tsunami without water".
Thousands of people thronged Mpila's streets, picking over what remained of their homes and looking for relatives.
Isolated small explosions could still be heard early Monday, sending panicking locals running for cover.
Mboulou said the priority for rescue teams was to put out small fires which continued to burn in and around the munitions depot early Monday, more than 24 hours after the first of a series of thunderous explosions.
A military source warned that a second munitions dump, some 100 metres (109 yards) away from the one destroyed, remained at risk because of nearby fires.
On Sunday, Sassou-Nguesso said that the military would in future be obliged to relocate their barracks outside the capital.
The stench of decomposing flesh drifted over the area Monday as ambulances and hearses lined up to take away the dead.
One resident told AFP earlier that a church had collapsed while people were inside attending a Sunday service.
Authorities opened two churches and a covered market to house thousands of people left homeless by the disaster.
"I lost everything. I haven't anything left. But I thank God because I'm alive," said Patricia Inopomis, a city employee whose seven children also survived.
The French ambassador in Brazzaville, Jean-Francois Valette, told AFP that the authorities estimated some 3,000 people had been left homeless by the disaster.
Adeline Kika was waiting for her parents, sitting on a sidewalk with a 13-month-old baby in her arms and a pile of clothing.
"We are going back to the house to get some of our things. We are a family of seven people, the house is completely destroyed," she said.
Leger Mokeme's home, situated 300 metres from the munitions warehouse, was in ruins.
"I've lost it all. I don't know where my family is going to sleep. We were sleeping when it began. Everything has collapsed. Look, it's all gone, there's only clothes left," he said.
Congolese television on Monday sought to reunite dozens of children separated from their parents in the panic that followed the explosions.
"People who escaped the March 4 events with children shown on the screen are asked to phone the numbers attached to each picture," the state broadcaster said as it displayed a series of photographs.
It also showed a group of some 20 children in a TV studio and appealed to anyone recognising them to get in touch with the station.
Neighbouring DR Congo was sending 20 medical specialists to Brazzaville, as well as equipment and medication, government spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP Monday.
DR Congo Foreign Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba and Health Minister Victor Makwenge Kaput will also visit Brazzaville "to express our solidarity and our compassion to our brothers and neighbours", Mende said.
France and Morocco said they would send emergency medical aid, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders - MSF) were also active.
Brazzaville's hospitals have been overwhelmed by the influx of victims, with hundreds of injured crowded into wards and corridors.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was "profoundly saddened by the loss of human life" and said the world organisation would help with recovery efforts.
News reports said that at least six Chinese construction workers were among the victims.
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