The death toll from accidental explosions at a military camp in Equatorial Guinea rose to 30 on Monday, state television said, after 10 more bodies were found in the ruined site.
Six hundred people were injured in the blasts, which also flattened homes near the camp on the outskirts of the economic hub of Bata, TVGE said, adding that it expected the toll to rise.
It showed images akin to a war zone, in which rescue workers and civilians struggled to remove bodies from smoking ruins.
Three children aged three and four were brought out alive and taken to hospital, it said.
A string of four huge explosions occurred in mid-afternoon on Sunday, hitting the Nkoa Ntoma camp, which houses special forces and gendarmes and their families, as well as homes nearby.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled the small central African state for 42 years, has blamed the accident on stubble-burning by local farmers and on ‘negligent’ supervision of the camp’s munitions depot.
‘My uncle, who is an officer at the camp, has just called to say that this morning he found the bodies of five members of his family, which were totally burned,’ a Bata resident said.
Another resident, Teodoro Nguema, said by phone, ‘We haven’t slept all night — the houses were burning all night long and we kept hearing small explosions.
‘Anyone living in a radius of two to four kilometres of the explosions has been unable to return home.’
Bata is home to 8,00,000 of Equatorial Guinea’s 1.4 million people, most of whom live in poverty despite the country’s oil and gas wealth.
The capital is Malabo, on the island of Bioko.
In a statement, Obiang said, ‘The city of Bata has been the victim of negligence by the team in charge of guarding stores of dynamite, explosives and munitions.’
‘(These) caught fire because of embers caused by stubble-burning in the fields by farmers, which ended up causing a series of explosions.’
The defence ministry said blasts caused by heavy-calibre munitions caused ‘shock waves which totally destroyed numerous homes nearby.’
The only Spanish-speaking country in sub-Saharan Africa, Equatorial Guinea is one of the most enclosed countries in the continent.
Its ruler Obiang is the world’s longest-serving sitting president and is frequently accused by rights groups of abuses.
In 1979, he ousted his uncle Francisco Macias Nguema, who had ruled the country since independence from Spain in 1968, and had him shot by firing squad.
The president’s jet-setting son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who is vice president with responsibility for defence and security, appeared in television footage at the scene inspecting the damage, accompanied by his Israeli bodyguards.
Teodorin, as he is known, is increasingly seen as the president’s designated successor.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Africa