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Death toll from Equatorial Guinea blasts rises to 98 with 615 injured

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By AFP
TVGE image made from video shows smoke rising over the blast site at a military barracks in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, Sunday, March 7, 2021.
TVGE image made from video shows smoke rising over the blast site at a military barracks in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, Sunday, March 7, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP/TVGE
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The death toll from accidental explosions at a military camp in Equatorial Guinea rose to 98 on Monday, state television said.

Numerous bodies and survivors had been pulled from the rubble after the four large blasts devastated a military camp and its surroundings in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, with the number of injured standing at 615.

Three children aged 3 and 4 years were pulled alive from the ruins of homes and taken to hospital, according to TVGE, a state television station under the Ministry of Information.

It showed images akin to a war zone, in which rescue workers and civilians struggled to remove bodies from smoking ruins.

A string of four huge explosions occurred in mid-afternoon on Sunday, hitting the Nkoa Ntoma camp, which houses special forces and gendarmes and their families, as well as homes nearby.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled the small central African state for 42 years, has blamed the accident on stubble-burning by local farmers and on "negligent" supervision of the camp's munitions depot.

In a statement, Obiang said: "The city of Bata has been the victim of negligence by the team in charge of guarding stores of dynamite, explosives and munitions."

"(These) caught fire because of embers caused by stubble-burning in the fields by farmers, which ended up causing a series of explosions."

The defence ministry said blasts caused by heavy-calibre munitions caused "shock waves which totally destroyed numerous homes nearby."

Bata is home to 800,000 of Equatorial Guinea's 1.4 million people, most of whom live in poverty despite the country's oil and gas wealth.

The capital is Malabo, on the island of Bioko.

The only Spanish-speaking country in sub-Saharan Africa, Equatorial Guinea is one of the most enclosed countries on the continent.

Its ruler Obiang is the world's longest-serving sitting president and is frequently accused by rights groups of abuses.