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Fires and explosions
Fires and explosions
28 June 1999 – Lagos Area, Nigeria
Oil company executives surveying the scene of a pipeline fire in Nigeria discovered ten charred bodies, the apparent remains of thieves who triggered an explosion while siphoning off fuel. The bodies were found floating in a swamp yesterday in Akute-Odo, nine miles west of Lagos. Authorities said as many as 15 people may have been killed in last Thursday's fiery blast. A commercial airline pilot flying over the area saw huge flames Thursday (June 24) and radioed the airport control tower, which in turn alerted officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. Witnesses in nearby villages said they heard a loud explosion, but they refused to help identify the dead out of fear they might be prosecuted. The fire was still raging yesterday, even though the flow of gasoline through the pipeline was shut off, said Obumueme Okonkwo, managing director of Nigeria's Petroleum Pipelines and Marketing Co.
6 July 1999 – Mont Blanc Tunnel, France
Paris, July 6 – The final report on a fatal fire in the Mont Blanc tunnel between France and Italy suggests a lack of co-ordination between the French and Italian operating companies could have exacerbated the disaster. The report, drawn up by a Franco-Italian commission for release on Thursday (July 8) but seen in part by Reuters today, also corrected the death toll to 39 from "at least 40" and pointed to a poor ventilation system as one of the causes of the inferno. "The double structure has not made it easy to do the thinking necessary in order to follow the evolution in traffic flow and in particular developments in safety," the report said. It noted that neither of the two control rooms run by the two firms and situated at either end of the pass had complete information on the opposite end of the tunnel. "The two control rooms risk taking different and contradictory decisions. Faced with an emergency, this situation could be the source of misunderstandings and harmful delays," the report said. It also noted the two sides had different emergency plans. The final report, due to be made public on Thursday at a news conference by the French and Italian transport ministers found fault with the 34-year old tunnel's ventilation system which does not have an extraction shaft between the two ends. Its 41 recommendations include a full revamp of the ventilation and extraction system and a new, computerised control system. The report also suggests the immediate setting up of a joint technical and safety committee and, later on, a single management body as a subsidiary of both operating companies.
8 July 1999 – An official report into a fatal blaze in the Mont Blanc tunnel released today found flawed co-ordination between the French and Italian operators and recommended a single management line in future. The report noted an "absence of … operational co-operation" in the handling of the March 24 blaze in which 39 people died and recommended 41 measures to boost safety. "Due to the absence of … operational co-operation and in the absence of shared safety exercises, the French and Italian emergency services were not in a position to carry out a common strategy," the report said. The two sides had different emergency plans and the report said there were flaws in the way the blaze was handled with neither side assuming full direction of the relief efforts. Italian Public Works Minister Enrico Micheli and French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said in a joint statement after presenting the reports that unity was needed in future. "The ministers invite the operating companies to set out immediately work plans on the basis of the recommendations contained in the joint report," the statement said. It added that they should "put in place a single technical direction to carry out and oversee the work, create a single operating direction and to establish a common security plan". Although the report criticised the 34-year-old tunnel's ventilation system, it exonerated a controversial Italian move to blow fresh air into the tunnel during the rescue – a move French investigators in April alleged had fanned the flames. Micheli said both governments hoped to have the tunnel reopened by autumn 2000, and Gayssot said the necessary investment would be Fr1.4 billion. The 41 recommendations included a full revamp of the ventilation and extraction system and a new, computerised control system.
30 July 1999 – Carletonville, South Africa
At least 18 miners were killed overnight in a methane gas explosion at a gold mine near Carletonville in South Africa's Free State gold fields. Rescue teams were still searching for one missing miner today. Twenty miners were brought safely to the surface after the blast yesterday evening. The mine, south-west of Johannesburg and formerly known as Western Deep Levels South, forms part of the world's deepest gold mine. The blast occurred at a depth of 2,700 metres. James Duncan, a spokesman for the mine's owners Anglogold, said miners were drilling an exploratory shaft when they hit a methane pocket. He said the purpose of the exploratory drilling was to release pockets of gas or water before extending a shaft. Duncan said safety systems kicked in as soon as the methane pocket was detected, and that the drillers raised the alarm. He said the explosion occurred while the shaft was being evacuated. "However," Duncan added, "we do not know what triggered the flammable gas." He said an investigation into the cause is under way. Duncan described as "unfortunate" an allegation by the National Union on Mineworkers that the explosion was the result of management negligence at the mine. Duncan said the 20 miners who survived the explosion were working in a side shaft out of the direct line of the blast. He added that if the missing miner was in an area of the mine other than where he was supposed to be there is a good chance of finding him alive. He said the survivors have been medically examined, but were unscathed apart from shock. They will undergo counselling today.
31 July 1999 – The body of a miner missing since Thursday's gas explosion at the world's deepest gold mine was found by rescue teams today, bringing the death toll to 19. Four teams were searching through thick smoke and gas some 2,700 metres underground at the Mponeng mine when they found the body at 05.00, owners AngloGold Ltd said. The exact cause of the blast is still not known.
27 August 1999 – Henan Province, China
A huge gas explosion at a state-owned mine in China's central Henan province has killed at least 19 miners, the Workers' Daily reported today. It said only 19 of the 74 miners working underground, in the mine near the city of Pingdingshan, were known to have survived and 36 were still missing after the blast on August 24. Local officials and rescue workers rushed to the site, but the fire caused by the explosion made the search for survivors difficult, it said. The cause of the accident was still under investigation, the newspaper said.
9 September 1999 – Moscow, Russia
At least 11 people were killed and more than 140 were feared buried in rubble today after a blast tore through a block of flats on the outskirts of Moscow as residents slept in their beds, officials said. An Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman said 86 people had been taken to hospital after being dragged from the destroyed nine-storey building, now just a yawning hole in a line of apartments with white smoke swirling from the wreckage. The blast, possibly a gas explosion, blew out windows over a wide area in and around Guryanov Street in south-east Moscow. "It is already clear 202 people lived in these two entrances," the ministry spokeswoman said. "It's difficult to say but there could be 147 under there." "The number [of those missing] is still being determined," Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters. "Some people may have gone on vacation. Some may have gone to their dachas [country homes]". Fire-fighters tackled small fires as others worked with lifting equipment. More than 200 fire-fighters and rescuers were at work using a range of heavy lifting equipment, he said. Sixty ambulances were on the scene. The Ministry spokeswoman said apartments above two of the six entrances to the block of flats had collapsed. The blast occurred soon after midnight, when most people would have been asleep in their apartments.
Rescue teams, hampered by thick smoke, held out little hope today of finding more survivors from a powerful midnight blast that killed at least 20 people and destroyed a riverside apartment block in Moscow. Officials took a cautious line on what might have caused the explosion, which left a yawning hole in the middle of the nine-storey building. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov suggested it might have been a "terrorist act" by Islamic guerrillas. "The possibility that anyone is still alive is close to zero because of the fire," an Emergencies Ministry official said at the scene of the blast. He added that as many as 50 people might still be buried under the rubble. Fire-fighters were still using hoses to douse the smouldering ruins some 16 hours after the blast. The explosion in Moscow's south-eastern suburb is the second mystery blast Luzhkov has had to deal with in the last ten days. On August 31, another blast damaged a luxurious shopping mall in central Moscow next to the Kremlin, injuring dozens of people. No one has claimed responsibility for either explosion. Luzhkov said experts had still to determine the cause of the latest blast, but did not rule out the involvement of Islamic rebels fighting Russian rule in the southern region of Dagestan. The rebels have threatened to commit terrorist acts in Russia. "The possibility it was a terrorist attack is becoming ever more real," Luzhkov told reporters. A spokesman for the FSB domestic security service, contacted earlier by telephone, sounded a more cautious note, saying investigators would look into other possible causes once they could reach the centre of the rubble. "Our duty obliges us to look for possible traces of a terrorist act, but so far there has been no evidence confirming or denying that theory," the spokesman said. "Investigators and experts have no access to the centre of the blast and it is not even clear where this centre was," he added. "It's all ruins, smoke." Several explosions caused by gas leaks have been registered in Moscow over the past year. Criminal underworld bomb attacks are also common in Moscow. Luzhkov said that the rescue teams have so far extracted 20 bodies and rescued 152 injured people, including one child, 73 of whom had been rushed to hospital.
13 September 1999 – Moscow, Russia
A blast ripped through an eight-storey building in a southern Moscow suburb early today, the Emergencies Ministry said. NTV commercial television said at least 11 people had been killed in the explosion, which came four days after a similar blast described by Russian officials as a "terrorist act" killed 94 people. "I can confirm there has been an explosion. It is too early to speak of casualties," an Emergencies Ministry spokesman said, adding that the building was located on the busy Kashiskoye highway just south of central Moscow. Interfax news agency called the latest blast "a new act of terrorism", adding that some 30 ambulances had rushed to the scene. Itar-Tass news agency said the building had been razed to the ground by the blast, which occurred at about 05.00 hrs (01.00, UTC).