BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo -- Houses and buildings collapsed in the Congolese capital yesterday, entombing inhabitants after an arms depot exploded, killing at least 206 people, officials said, including dozens attending Mass in a church that buckled under the force of the blast.
The shock waves shattered windows in a three-mile radius surrounding the arms depot, including across the river that separates Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, from Kinshasa, the capital of the larger Central Afican nation of Congo.
"It's like a tsunami passed through here," said Christine Ibata, a student. "The quarter has practically collapsed, with roofs of houses blown off."
A morgue in Brazzaville took in 136 bodies yesterday afternoon, as more continued to arrive. A local hospital reported at least 237 patients wounded in the blasts.
President Denis Sassou-Nguesso toured two hospitals and a morgue as dozens of injured people were being brought in, including a 4-year-old who had lost his leg. The president was visibly moved, but made no public comments.
It's unclear what started the fire at the weapons depot, but an official at the president's office said the depot is used to store war-grade weapons, including mortars. The first blast went off around 8 a.m., and several smaller blasts were heard throughout the morning. Another major explosion went off around 1 p.m.
Defense Minister Charles Zacharie Boawo appeared on national television to urge calm in Brazzaville and in the neighboring capital, Kinshasa.