45 killed in explosives store fire


PAKISTAN: At least 45 people were killed and 70 injured, many critically, when blasts set off by a fire near an explosives store in northern Pakistan reduced much of a remote village to rubble, witnesses and officials said.

"I was woken up by an explosion," said Abdul Wahab Khan, himself slightly injured. "I rushed out of the house and saw people's bodies flying in the air," he said from hospital in Chilas in northern Pakistan.

Police and hospital sources in the Diamir area near Chilas, a town about 200 km north of Islamabad, said 45 people had died as a result of the explosion late on Saturday. State-run Pakistan Television gave a toll of 48.

Dr Ashraf Aman, of the emergency department of Chilas district hospital south of Gilgit, said around 70 people had been admitted to the hospital and 23 were in critical condition.

"Three had died on arrival, and four others passed away while undergoing emergency operations," he added.

Taj Mohammad, an official at the deputy commissioner's office in Diamir, said at least 18 people were still missing and Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the toll could be as high as 60.

"Explosives used for building a water channel had been stored next to the house where a short circuit took place," Mohammad told Reuters, adding that the electrical fault had set the house on fire. Many of the missing were feared dead.

He said 25 50-kg bags of explosive materials had detonated. Witnesses said the death toll was high because villagers had rushed to the house to help put out the fire. A policeman in Diamir said that army helicopters took the injured to nearby hospitals.

"We have dug at least 40 graves for the burial of our loved ones, and the whole village and people from nearby villages have taken part," said a villager, speaking from hospital in Chilas.

Another police officer in Diamir said emergency services extinguished the blaze yesterday. He said it had destroyed 35 houses and damaged at least 100 others.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said there was no suspicion of foul play. "This was an accident, it had nothing to do with terrorist measures," he said.