Tanzania made BBC front page headlines today showcasing what now seems to be an annual event.
Around 9pm last night in Dar Es Salaam, the arms depot of the Gongola Mboto Tanzanian army base caught fire. The explosions could be seen, heard and felt for miles around, and they continued for hours. Each blast felt like an earthquake in its effect, shaking buildings, rattling windows, and causing one's heart to lodge itself squarely in the back of one's throat. The smouldering fire caused the sky to turn a dusklike shade of pink, providing apt background lighting for ammunition and bomb shrapnel hurdling through the air.
Of course accurate information about what was happening was slow to emerge. The BBC's Josphat Mwanzi in Dar es Salaam reported, "the blasts caused panic among city residents overnight because there was no clear information about what was happening." That seems a cute understatement for the state of alarm these explosions, which seemed to hit all too close to home, inspired in us.
At least 32 people were reported to have been killed, many more were injured, and with an estimated 4000 people being sheltered at the National Assembly, the death toll is sure to increase. Area blood banks have sent out an urgent request for donations. Beyond the gratuitous loss of lives, 23 munitions depots were destroyed, along with two residential houses and a secondary school, and the airport was even closed for several hours to ensure clear skyways from exploding ammunitions.
The directives issued in the aftermath were rather straightforward -- if you see or come across a bomb do not touch it but instead alert appropriate authorities.
The explosions are said to have been accidental, but coming so close on the heels of recent explosions at an army ammunition depot in Dar es Salaam in the spring of 2009 which killed more than 20 people, this seems to reflect a more systemic breech of ammunition storage safety that feels a far cry from "accidental".