A string of huge explosions ripped through a military base in the Equatorial Guinea city of Bata on Monday, killing up to 20 people and causing over 600 injuries. According to President Teodoro Obiang, the explosions were caused by “negligent handling of dynamite.”
“The impact of the explosion caused damage in almost all the houses and buildings in Bata,” Obiang said. Photos from across the city showed rooftops ripped off houses and buildings severely damaged by the shock waves.
At least 17 people are dead and hundreds of others are hospitalized following an explosion at a military camp in Equatorial Guinea, according to the country's health ministry. https://t.co/5oTHJR9im3 pic.twitter.com/GrPdNSWO0d
— ABC News (@ABC) March 7, 2021
The Defense Ministry issued a statement that claimed the explosions were caused by ammunition exploding due to a fire in a weapons depot. Obiang said the fire was due to “stubble-burning by farmers in their fields,” while “the negligence of a unit charged with the care and protection of stores of dynamite and explosives” contributed to the blast.
Casualty reports between government agencies were also inconsistent, as the president mentioned 15 fatalities, the health ministry said 17, and local media reported at least 20.
A doctor told state television network TVGE that clinics and hospitals were overwhelmed by the wounded, many of them children, so coronavirus treatment centers were being pressed into service for the treatment of minor injuries. A radio station in Bata reported Monday that residents within four kilometers of the explosion were being evacuated because toxic substances might have been released into the atmosphere.
The health ministry called for blood donors and volunteers to dig through the rubble, while Foreign Minister Simeon Oyono Esono Angue appealed to other nations for emergency aid.
“This is going to have quite a devastating effect on many levels. Equatorial Guinea is one of the richest countries in Africa, with the least distribution of its oil wealth. There have been many coup attempts since independence and so this is going to rock the boat,” former U.S. diplomat William Lawrence told Al Jazeera News on Monday.
Al Jazeera implied the aftermath of the explosion could have political ramifications for 78-year-old Obiang, who has ruled Equatorial Guinea since 1979 and seems to be grooming his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, currently vice president in charge of defense and security, to succeed him.
The BBC noted the president has been “repeatedly accused of human rights abuses” and “massive corruption” during his long tenure, which helps to explain why 76 percent of the population lives in abject poverty despite Equatorial Guinea’s rich resources of oil and gas.
Equatorial Guinea is a former Spanish colony located south of Cameroon. It has a total population of 1.3 million, of which 175,000 live in Bata. The Spanish embassy issued a recommendation Monday that “Spanish nationals stay in their homes” during the crisis.