Dynamite Explosions at Military Base Kill At Least 105 People and Injure More than 600 in Bata

Images of the devastation at Nkoantoma Military Base stitched together from Equatorial Guinean state television channel TVGE footage via Reuters.
At around 2 p.m. on Sunday March 7, three huge blasts and a series of smaller explosions from the Nkoantoma Military Base levelled much of Equatorial Guinea’s largest city and sent thousands of people fleeing into the countryside.

The first explosion “was so big that all of us and the people around us were shouting: ‘This is a bomb, this is a bomb!’” said a teacher in Bata, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from the authorities in the tightly-controlled central African country.

Preliminary analysis of satellite images from the United Nations Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT) suggests 243 structures were completely destroyed by the explosions.

Damaged structures near explosions

Three days on, residents of Bata were still coming to grips with the full scale of a disaster that has killed at least 105 people and injured more than 600. A total of 482 people had been discharged from hospitals but many remained untreated.

Satellite image analysis of Nkoantoma Military Base

The military camp where dynamite and other explosives were stored was originally built far from the city, according to a Reuters analysis of historical satellite images. But Bata expanded and Nkoantoma Military Base was in a densely populated area when the explosions went off.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema said it was an accident caused by negligent handling of dynamite. The explosions, he added, damaged almost all homes and buildings in Bata, a city of just over 250,000 people.

Locally captured scenes of the blast

The government said the military unit guarding dynamite had been negligent in handling the explosives, and also blamed the explosions on fires set by farmers living nearby.

Obiang said Equatorial Guinean courts will lead an investigation into the explosion, but campaign group Human Rights Watch has called for an independent and international inquiry.

How the blast compares

In Lebanon last year, at least 190 people died when a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, stored unsafely for years, detonated at Beirut’s port. From 1979 to 2019 almost 30,000 casualties were recorded from unplanned explosions at munitions sites resulting from incidents, according to the Small Arms Survey.

It is the Central African country’s worst tragedy in recent memory, and while the government, charitable organisations and private citizens have kept everyone fed and sheltered for now, most of Equatorial Guinea’s 1.4 million people live in poverty.

SOURCE: Reuters