Monday, July 11, 2011

Cyprus naval blast a 'catastrophe of biblical proportions'

Cyprus's government spokesman says the country's defence minister and the head of the National Guard have resigned over a deadly explosion at a naval base that killed 12 people and injured more than 60.

Monday's explosion at the National Guard's Evangelos Florakis Naval Base on the Mediterranean island's southern coast occurred when a brush fire set off containers of gunpowder that had been confiscated from a ship two years ago.

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said Defence Minister Costas Papacostas resigned, as did the National Guard Chief, Petros Tsalikides. He said investigators have ruled out sabotage.

State radio said the dead included two Cyprus navy sailors, two soldiers and five firefighters.

"We were devastated by this event, not so much by the material damage, but by the loss of human lives and the injury of many of our compatriots," said President Dimitris Christofias, who visited the naval base after the blast.

He described the scene at the base as a "a catastrophe of biblical proportions."

A Defence Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was not complete, said the blast appeared to have been caused by a brush fire that broke out nearby and spread to the base. (read more)