Turkmenistan: Munitions Mishap Causes "A Lot of Blood" - Witnesses
EurasiaNet received the following eyewitness account from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on July 8, a day after initial reports that an ammunition stockpile exploded just outside the Turkmen capital. Thus far, the country's leadership has not confirmed reports of the accident, stating that the visible smoke emanating from the area is the result of a pyrotechnics accident.
The explosions in Ashgabat sounded like rolling thunder. People raised their heads toward the sky, but there was no cloud. It would come later, initially as an atomic-looking mushroom. Then plumes of smoke would stretch in different directions from the falling shells.
Immediately, the phone began to ring with calls from relatives, friends, and strangers - people who had just dialed the wrong number. “There’s an explosion in Bezmein [a.k.a. Abadan-ed.]! Lots of casualties – do you have any details?” No one had details. Cell phone service petered out, either because the circuits had overloaded or because someone had taken care of it. A bit later, the internet went out too.
Ashgabat looked like an anthill. Many spilled out into the street to look at the smoke from the explosion. Many sped in their cars toward Bezmein as the firefighters set out from different directions. For the day, rushing ambulances would become as normal a sight as regular city transport.
“A big explosion; the city is destroyed; there are shells and rockets all over the place.” The city filled with rumors as first reports came in from witnesses and those who had reached their relatives. “I reached my apartment in BezmeinGRES [a Bezmein suburb named for a power station –ed.]. The windows are blown out, the glass just got pushed into the room… There are people sitting and lying around in the yard; you can’t tell who is alive, who is in shock… There’s a lot of blood.”
Another phone call: “On the side where the explosion took place, the wall of the house is peppered with shards and intact shells, large ones - larger than from an automatic weapon. The next yard over was hit by several shells; the roofing is all torn up, same with the windows… A neighbor woman has lost her hearing and, looks like, her mind, too. The city is dead… On the way to Ashgabat, we saw formations of military and fire trucks. And now (late at night), they’re not letting anyone in and out [of the city].”
Later, the ambulances started to come back to Ashgabat, to every hospital. Everyone was waiting at least for some sort of statement from the government. The TV showed only songs and dancing, the news – just the President’s regular travel around the country. The sun was setting behind a huge cloud, by now emanating from fires instead of the explosion. In the evening you could see the mountains burning around Bezmein.
At night, I had reached a few friends, and we decided to go to the hospital to give blood. At the hospital there was chaos and no one could say anything. “Go away, we were ordered not to say anything about the dead or wounded. We’ve got all we need, we don’t need more blood,” finally someone declared.
Our hands shook, and our eyes darted. In the early morning, a friend called: “My daughter-in-law is going through one operation after another, they’re sewing her piece by piece. The doctors said to look for blood ourselves…”
The next morning we were told that they had started evacuating people from a different town in the West, Geok-Tepe, another munitions stockpile. The authorities are worried that because of on-going explosions in Bezmein, the Geok-Tepe stockpile could detonate too – and that’s 50 km from Bezmein.
Phone calls again.
“The next morning, I’m calling emergency services and the police, I’m telling them I’ve got shells and casings strewn all around my yard, many of them still intact. I told them my address, but even after lunch, no one showed up! Good thing they started bringing around cisterns of water. The water is still off in the house, still no electricity.”
“Our neighbors are missing their kid. After the explosion, they ran to the preschool, where they were told that the kids had been taken somewhere; they went to the police, to the stadium, no one knows anything useful. At night they forbade people from moving around the city, they said it’s still dangerous, that shells are still exploding.”
“There is an acrid smell in the city, ammunitions are strewn all around, glass, pieces of roofing, somebody’s things. The neighbors said that ‘the robbers came’ at night. On the outskirts of town, the vendors are asking for crazy prices; a pack of cigarettes cost $10, or you can buy a cigarette for a dollar.”
“They said that people are being evacuated, but many need to be carried out of their houses, they can’t walk… The neighbors only got picked up in the morning, they spent the whole night in the shelled out apartment, glass shards and all. Without light, they were afraid to move so they wouldn’t get wounded again.”
“An ambulance driver was smoking in the courtyard… he said he had been picking up bodies all night. Some of them were in pieces… now they’re walking through houses looking for dead and wounded.”
But the President’s speech was an even greater shock. Amid exploding shells, he declared that, well, some pyrotechnics had been exploded that were stored for fireworks on independence day and other holidays. That there is no special destruction, and certainly no casualties. Everyone is getting the help they need, and everything is going to be fine.
Many were hoping that this time we’d hear the truth. That a day of mourning would be declared, pensions and subsidies given out, the city rebuilt. Looks like that hope was in vain. If there are no casualties and no destruction, what compensation could there be?
And the internet is still out. The Russian channels have started to show news about our explosions. Thankfully, many people have satellite dishes. Everyone knows everything, about the explosions, and about the President’s lies.
You can see photos from the Bezmein explosion site at http://www.chrono-tm.org/?id=3201
A Russian-language version of this account appeared in the blogs section of the Echo of Moscow web portal.