By RFE RL
By Manas Kaiyrtayuly*
(RFE/RL) — Thirteen people were killed and nearly 100 injured in a series of blasts triggered by a fire at an arms depot on a military base in southern Kazakhstan, prompting the country’s defense minister to offer his resignation.
The country’s emergencies ministry said that a 13th body was recovered at the site on August 28 but had not been identified.
A ministry spokesman said on August 28 that at least three people remain missing and a search for them continues.
Spokesman Talghat Uali said the dead include employees of the military unit of the Emergency Situations Ministry, military personnel, and an official from the military prosecutor’s office.
The blast injured 98 people — about half of them are employees of the Emergency Situations Ministry.
An RFE/RL correspondent reports from the site that one victim was a firefighter, Eldos Sandybaev.
Defense Minister Nurlan Ermekbaev told a press briefing earlier in the day that it was unclear what caused the fire on August 26 at the military facility in the province of Zhambyl, where engineering explosives were stored. He added that arson or sabotage could not be ruled out.
Ermekbaev said that more than 500 tons of explosives had been stored at the depot. The explosives had come from a facility in the town of Arys after a similar 2019 explosion there that killed four people, damaged thousands of houses, and forced the evacuation of 40,000 residents.
Separately, Ermekbayev told RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service that he was ready to offer his resignation after the accident, but that any final decision on his future in the post would be made by the country’s leadership, a reference to President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev.
Authorities evacuated hundreds of people from three villages located less than a kilometer from the ammunition depot to the regional capital, Taraz, and closed the main road linking the province to the Central Asian nation’s largest city, Almaty.
An official in Zhambyl Province said the situation had stabilized and evacuees could return to their homes.
Also closed was a key Central Asian rail network in the area that links Almaty to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, and the Uzbek town of Termiz, which is a main regional gateway to Afghanistan.
Hundreds of military personnel, police officers, and medics were mobilized to help the rescue efforts.
A video shared on the Telegram messaging app that could not be verified showed a column of smoke billowing from a fire before a powerful explosion sent a ball of flame into the sky.
- Manas Kaiyrtayuly is a correspondent with RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service.