Turkmenistan: Human Rights Activists Say Death Toll Climbing from Explosion
Six days after the explosion of an ammunition depot in Abadan, Turkmenistan, residents cannot get answers from the authorities about their relatives, feared killed in the multiple blasts. They can still hear rockets exploding, but they're told this is just soldiers detonating any unexploded ordnance they find, Turkmen blogger Serdar Aytakov reports..
With the government providing only minimal information, and with communications not restored and mobile phones and Internet deliberately blocked, it has been extremely difficult to get valid information from the area. The news vacuum has fueled fears and rumors, and also prompted great acts of courage as citizen journalists have taken enormous risks to go in and get the story as best they can.
Yesterday, the independent émigré website chrono-tm.org published reports, said to be from reliable sources and based on eyewitness accounts, that the number of victims from the town of some 50,000 people could be as high as 1,382, a third of them children.
This is a major jump in the figure given out for the past week, which was 200 deaths, and there is no way to confirm it at this time. The total appears to be compiled from various reports of buildings destroyed and the people known to be in them and missing, including 127 homes and dozens of public buildings. For example, according to these reports, 30 people, including newborns, died in a maternity clinic and 30 children who had gone to take a computer lesson at a school located near the power station were also killed. Only fragments of bodies remain in these cases, making it hard to identify victims.
While some people still cannot get news of relatives killed or injured, there are some reports that authorities have finally allowed family members to receive the bodies of their relatives. Today, a Russian Orthodox parishioner told chrono-tm.org on condition of anonymity that funerals had been held for 15 people killed in the Abadan blast. Burials took place only after permission was received from local authorities. Relatives of other people who have died are still waiting for authorization.
In addition, it was learned that three builders working near the Bezmein power station were killed by shrapnel, two from Lebap velayat (province) and one from Dashoguz velayat
Security has been reinforced around the presidential palace and President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's suburban residence, and water cannon have been placed at the entrances, chrono-tm.org and other sources report Government propagandists have evidently sent out a granny brigade on public transport to talk up the need to trust the president and rely on the government, and discourage talk of protest.
Reports have also been received that the Russian Emergencies Ministry has come to assist in the response to the disaster, although the Russian media has not confirmed this. The Turkmen ambassador in Moscow met with a Russian deputy foreign minister yesterday. A Russian satellite company reported they have an image of the area from July 9, two days after the explosion, showing the destroyed warehouse, a large radius of damage and craters where the shells exploded.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov telephoned Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov to express his condolences and offer his country's assistance, but Berdymukhamedov assured him the situation was under control and while expressing appreciation, declined the offer of help.
The Turkmen leader has been in the curious position of sending official condolences to Azerbaijan over a plane crash a day after the Abadan explosion, and to Russia over the sinking of the cruise boat Bulgaria, in which at least 100 perished, yet in his own country he has not declared a day of mourning.
Repeatedly, survivors of the blast have been telling journalists that they don't understand why, in this modern age, the leadership cannot admit that an accident has happened, report on it accurately, accept help with it, provide compensation, and officially mourn the victims. Instead, police continue to block the area and television features singing and dancing and speeches by the president, unrelated to Abadan.
An unsigned petition has been circulated among opposition and social media sites, demanding that a hotline be opened up for people to get information, that officials report the true scale of the disaster, that relatives receive bodies for burial, and other measures of accountability.