At least 200 people are reported to have been killed and more than 1,000 injured after an arms depot caught fire in Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo.

Several large explosions rocked the riverside city on Sunday morning, destroying houses and causing residents to flee their homes. A huge plume of smoke rose over Brazzaville, with the blasts’ impacts felt several miles away in Kinshasa, in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, shattering windows and causing panic there.

Republic of Congo’s defence minister Charles Zacharie Bowao told state radio that a fire at the regimental base in the Mpila neighbourhood had triggered the blasts.

“The explosions that you have heard don’t mean there is a war or a coup d’etat,” he said, urging people to stay calm. “Nor does it mean there was a mutiny.”

Betu Bangana, head of protocol in the president’s office in Brazzaville, said there were “around 200 dead and many injured”, citing hospital sources.

“Some people are still (trapped) in their houses,” he told Reuters news agency. “They’re saying the entire neighbourhood of Mpila has been destroyed.”

China’s Xinhua news agency said that Chinese workers from the Beijing Construction Engineering Group were among the dead, with dozens of other workers injured.

President Denis Sassou-Nguesso has a residence near the arms depot, but was not there when the explosions began. A government spokesman said many people remained trapped in the rubble of a church in Brazzaville.

The area around the arms depot is densely populated. Witnesses said many buildings collapsed due to the force of the explosion. The initial large blasts were followed by several smaller ones hours later.

“I heard at least five or six good sized explosions, which blew out the windows and brought down half the ceiling in our hotel,” said Patrick Mair, an analyst with the security consultancy Control Risks who is in Brazzaville.

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