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Thousands evacuated as explosions spark fire at Ukraine arms depot

AFP  |  Zaudaika 

More than 12,000 people were evacuated after stored at an arms depot in began exploding early on Tuesday sparking a huge fire, authorities said.

said they were investigating "possible sabotage" in the incident at a defence ministry depot near the village of Druzhba, in the northern Chernigiv region around 135 kilometres northeast of

Emergency services said they had no information of any fatalities, while regional authorities said more than 60 people required medical help for smoke inhalation. Grey and white smoke billowed and a fireball briefly lit up the sky above the depot, an saw, while explosions rumbled every one to two minutes.

A said Tuesday afternoon the fire had been localised and "the intensity of the explosions is continuing to go down." The fire and explosions began around 3:30am local time (0030 GMT) at the Number Six depot, which covers an area of about 700 hectares (1,700 acres), the emergency services said.

Four explosions went off in different parts of the depot before a fire broke out, said the of Ukraine's General Staff, Rodion Tymoshenko, adding that "this mean it's most likely sabotage," implying Russia's involvement.

forces have been fighting pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country since 2014 in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people. More than 12,000 people were evacuated from the area at risk, the emergency services said.

In the nearby small town of Ichnya, streets appeared deserted and were patrolled by police and the

Shells "flew over the house at three o'clock in the morning, whistling overhead," said resident who returned to put out the flames after taking his family to a safe location. "It was scary, very scary." called a meeting of the heads of security forces and promised to give residents all the necessary help, his wrote on

travelled to the scene and chaired a meeting of emergency services officials.

"The main thing is to preserve people's lives. Whatever's destroyed, we will rebuild," he wrote on

Authorities closed the airspace in a 30-kilometre radius around the site, as well as rail and road traffic.

More than a hundred firefighters worked at the scene, while the defence ministry sent firefighting tanks.

The defence ministry denied a claim by the emergencies service that the depot contained 88,000 tonnes of ammunition, while saying the real quantity was a secret. More than half the had already been removed from the depot and taken to safer sites before the fire broke out, Tymoshenko of the said.

The SBU security service confirmed that it was looking into "possible sabotage." Ukrainian claimed on that for those seeking the cause of the incident: "there is only one answer: Russia-Moscow-Kremlin." Military prosecutors opened a probe into possible negligence by officials, however.

Stockpiles of outdated dating back to the Soviet era often cause fires and explosions in and

This was the sixth major fire in three years at an arms depot of the In March 2017, a huge fire set off explosions at a depot in the town of in the Kiev-controlled part of eastern Ukraine, killing one person and injuring five others. Ukrainian authorities blamed that incident on an "act of sabotage".

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, October 09 2018. 19:45 IST