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1 dead, 40 injured, thousands flee as blasts hit SL’s armoury

A major fire at one of Sri Lanka’s largest ammunition depots triggered a series of explosions, killing one soldier and injuring over 40, forcing thousands to flee as debris fell into populated areas destroying hundreds of homes in the worst such incident in the country’s history.

The military ammunition dump at Salawa area in Avissawella, 30 km east of Colombo, caught fire at around 5pm (local time) on Sunday, setting off huge explosions that went on through the night.
Rocket-propelled grenade shells and shrapnel triggered by the explosions destroyed a hospital and hundreds of nearby homes, creating panic among thousands of people who rushed for cover, officials said.

“A soldier has been killed and the military has entered the premises,” military spokesman Brigadier Jayanath Jayaweera said, adding that soldiers have doused the fire. He further said the army will appoint a court of inquiry to probe the incident in which more than 40 people were also injured.

Firefighters had to struggle for more than 12 hours to douse the blaze at the Salawa military complex.Thousands of people living close to the site were asked to vacate their homes and move to schools, temples and other places for cover as intermittent blasts were still erupting.

Disaster officials said over 25,000 people were affected by the explosions.“At least 600 of them are housed in temples and schools”, Disaster Management Centre official Pradeep Kodippili said.

An aerial shot of the army complex from a nearby hilltop showed only a water tower remained relatively intact. All the buildings were either fully destroyed or had their roofs blown out in the explosion.

The incident is termed as the worst ammunition depot fire in Sri Lanka’s history. The armoury is one of the largest ammunition storage of the Sri Lankan Army.

The cause behind the incident was not immediately known. Residents said loud explosions were heard.  All residents within a five km radius of the complex were evacuated last night to prevent people from inhaling fumes emanating from the fire.       

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