A series of massive explosions rocked Equatorial Guinea’s largest city on Sunday, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 400, according to state television.
The blasts occurred in the afternoon in the economic capital of Bata on the small west African nation’s Atlantic coast.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo said the blasts were caused by negligence involving dynamite at a military base.
Early reports from local media had suggested the explosions may have been caused by an accidental explosion at the city’s Nkoa Ntoma military camp, which houses a large arms depot.
Graphic images on social media showed widespread damage. Shocked civilians, some clearly wounded, could be seen running amid huge plumes of smoke and windowless buildings. People scoured the rubble and debris looking for survivors. Some security experts said the images showed a column of yellow smoke before the explosions, suggesting a possible chemical storage accident.
In a series of tweets, Equatorial Guinea’s health ministry asked for blood donations and for volunteer health workers to go to Bata’s main hospital because of the high number of casualties. Some local hospitals were overwhelmed by patients, state television reported, broadcasting images of the wounded lying on the floor of a crowded ward.
Once the world’s poorest country, Equatorial Guinea briefly became Africa’s richest in per capita gross domestic product during the oil boom. The crash of global oil prices has weighed heavily on the former Spanish colony ruled by Mr. Obiang, the world’s longest serving president in power since 1979. Mr. Obiang’s son and heir apparent, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who is vice president with responsibility for defense and security, appeared in the television footage at the scene inspecting the damage, accompanied by his bodyguards.
The blast comes as the country’s economy has been hit by a double shock caused by the drop in the price of crude, which provides three quarters of state revenue, and the coronavirus pandemic.
By sundown, there was still confusion across Bata and fears that the death toll could rise sharply.
“We hear the explosion, and we see the smoke, but we don’t know what’s going on,” one local resident, Teodoro Nguema, told the AFP news agency.
In a tweet, France’s ambassador Olivier Brochenin sent his condolences to the victims, describing the event as a “catastrophe.” Spain’s embassy in the capital, Malabo, also asked its country’s citizens to remain at home.
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Appeared in the March 8, 2021, print edition as ‘Deadly Blasts Hit Equatorial Guinea.’