MARI, July 11 – A massive munitions blast at a military base in Cyprus killed at least twelve people and injured dozens today, shutting down the island’s largest power station, the official Cyprus News Agency said.
The explosion was thought to have occurred in a dump storing 98 shipping containers of confiscated Iranian weapons at the Evangelos Florakis navy base on the south coast.
The blast caused extensive damage to the Vassilikos power plant which provides the popular Mediterranean holiday island with half of its electricity.
“We can’t assess the extent of the damage, but it’s a biblical disaster,” spokesman Costas Gavrielides told Reuters.
Cyprus’s defence minister and army chief both resigned hours after the explosion, a government spokesman said.
The intensity of the explosion was felt for miles around the area, a picturesque region dotted with olive groves and farming communities. Witnesses reported “raining metal” on a nearby motorway.
“It was huge. I fell out of bed and ran to check on the kids,” said Eleni Toubi, a resident of Mari, a village which is separated from the navy base by a small hill. Windows and doors of her small home were blown out and the roof damaged.
“Where can I go? I don’t have anywhere else to stay,” she said.
Police and army officials gave little detail about the incident which happened just before 0300 GMT.
“There are a number of dead which we cannot confirm yet,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said.
Britain, which has troops stationed on the island, said its personnel were on stand-by to assist the Cypriot authorities.
Farmer Nicos Aspros was out tilling his field when the blast occurred. “My tractor jumped about half a metre high,” he said.
“There isn’t a house in the community which hasn’t been damaged.”
In the capital Nicosia, some 65km away, residents were woken by power cuts. Communications was patchy, as mobile networks were jammed.
As news of the tragedy unfolded, the public rushed to hospitals to donate blood. Authorities issued emergency appeals to the public to switch off non-essential electrical equipment and the commerce ministry urged the public to use their own generators.
The military base stored munitions from the Monchegorsk, a ship which Cyprus intercepted sailing from Iran to Syria in 2009 after pressure from the US, confiscating its cargo for being in violation of UN sanctions on Iran.
It was carrying explosives when it was intercepted and ordered to dock at a Cypriot port in January 2009. In an account of the incident disclosed by WikiLeaks, the US embassy in Nicosia had described Cypriot participation in the exercise as “half-hearted”.
Cyprus had offloaded 98 containers of banned material from the Monchegorsk, and transferred it to Evangelos Florakis in early February 2009.
Military sources said they believed all 98 containers – kept exposed in scorching temperatures – went up in the blast. – Reuters