Huge Explosion at Zygi Naval Base Causes National Disaster
A massive explosion in the early morning hours at a naval base near Zygi village has killed 12 Cypriot nationals and injured 62, according to the latest estimates by government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou.
At 5.55am, there was a blast at the Evangelos Florakis base caused by high explosives stored in shipping containers. The munitions were confiscated by Cypriot authorities in 2009 after a ship was caught breaking UN sanctions by illegally carrying arms from Iran to Syria.
In the two hours after the explosion at the naval base, ambulances ferried the injured and dead from the base and the road leading up to it was closed off by authorities. The exact number of victims has not yet been confirmed.
"There are many dead, many injured," said a national guardsman on duty in the area.
The explosion scattered red hot metal debris and caused another fire at Vassiliko electricity plant, located next to the base. Electricity in the area of Kalavasos, Limassol, Zygi, Governor's Beach, Pentakomo and as far as Nicosia was completely shut down.
"This has sent us back to the 1960's, the 800 megawatt plant will need at least two years to fix, one of the centre fuel tankers is almost collapsed," said a contractor at Vassiliko electricity plant.
The new unit that has just been built was completely destroyed, said the contractor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Firefighters in fire engines and helicopters battled the fires in the plant as plumes of black smoke streamed from the facility. There were also some injuries to staff working at the plant, the number of injuries is so far unconfirmed.
An entire busload of police and army tanks were sent to the scene, along with ambulances from all over Cyprus.
Authorities have ruled out sabotage, and have confirmed that the accident was caused by munitions stored in 98 shipping containers.
One local man in Zygi reacted angrily, shouting that whoever was responsible for storing the high explosives at the base should be punished severely, "strung up," as he said. It is common knowledge that the containers were at the base and that they were considered to be dangerous, according to a number of accounts from locals.
"My nephew works at the naval base, he told me that the explosion was from the containers," said another local man who refused to give his name.
The Monchegorsk ship was taken into custody by Cypriot authorities in 2009, and its cargo of high explosives offloaded in Limassol in February 2009, according to a secret cable sent to the State Department by the US Embassy in Nicosia and published by Wikileaks.ch.
Cyprus floated the idea of sending the munitions to Malta, but the option was not taken up at the time. According to reports, the containers with the explosives were sitting in high temperatures at the naval base. On July 6th, firefighters were called to the base because the containers were expanding in the heat, said a source in the emergency services.
Damaged property, frightened residents
In the surrounding villages, there were damages to property, particularly in Zygi village. A bank and butcher located around two kilometres away from the base suffered broken windows and shattered doorways. So far there have been no reports of serious injuries.
Employees from Vassiliko power station gathered at the coffeeshop in Zygi, talking about what happened in hushed tones. Many fear for their loved ones working at the naval base, and for their future employment at the plant.
The highway, located one kilometre away from the naval base, was littered with debris from the explosion and there were cars with shattered windows parked on the shoulder. Highway signs were twisted and blown off their stands from the force of the explosion. A doctor stood in front of an ambulance, his white uniform covered in blood, attending to a road accident victim.
Appeal for public's cooperation
The public have been advised to reduce their electricity use until the crisis is over, and Nicosia residents can give blood for the injured at Engomi Hospital.
(Image credits: photos Sarah Fenwick-Hadjigeorgiou, video Savvas Hadjigeorgiou, thanks to SigmaTV for editing)