Russian arms depot fire halts oil pipeline flows

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 03, 2011 5:53 AM
Russian arms depot fire halts oil pipeline flows

By Vladimir Soldatkin and Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian authorities battled a blaze raging through an arms depot on Friday that halted oil pipeline flows from the country's top crude producer and forced tens of thousands to be moved out of the area.

State television showed flames colouring the night sky orange and sparking explosions overnight at the military complex near the city of Izhevsk 1,200 km (750 miles) east of Moscow.

Two people died of heart attacks during the fire -- the second at a Russian munitions store in less than a week -- and at least 45 were injured, the local health minister in the central Russian region told news agencies.

By morning, a thick cloud of smoke rose from the depot, which stores more than 10,000 tonnes of artillery shells. A Defense Ministry official said there were two or three loud blasts every minute.

Russia's pipeline monopoly Transneft said it had stopped receiving 161,000 barrels per day (bpd), or 22,000 tonnes, of oil on a domestic pipeline after the blasts.

Transneft spokesman Igor Dyomin said one of its pipelines had stopped receiving 131,000 barrels per day of oil from Russia's top crude producer Rosneft. Shipments from producers LUKOIL and Russneft, equal to 30,000 barrels per day, had also been halted.

"The pipeline stopped getting oil from 0100 Moscow time on Friday. Customers are still getting oil as we have reserves," Dyomin said.

The depot near the village of Pugachyovo housed munitions scheduled for disposal which were equivalent in power to about 58,000 tonnes of TNT, Russian agencies reported.

"There is a sizable store of rocket-propelled missiles stored at the depots but they are encased in a 60 cm (25 inch) -thick cement storage site. They will not explode," Deputy Defense Minister General Dmitry Bulgakov told the state Itar-tass news agency. He added that an investigation had been launched into the causes of the fire.

A military source told the Interfax news agency it would take at least two days to douse the blaze.

Nearby residents said the force of the explosions blew out the windows of their homes.

"There was an explosion and then a fire. The windows shattered and everything shook," resident Klara Taufikovna told the local news portal www.Izhlife.ru.

"We were all very frightened, we didn't know what to do, where to run or even what happened."

Wearing only a nightgown, another elderly resident told Vesti-24 state television: "We were sleeping, I grabbed my grandchild. Look, I'm only wearing slippers ... Everything was blowing up," she said.

Last week, 12 people were injured and 40 buildings were damaged in a fire at munitions storage depots in Bashkortostan.

A military serviceman was suspected of being behind the incident, local investigators said. It caused estimated damage worth 100 million roubles ($3.5 million).

Blasts and fires at munitions depots in the former Soviet Union have often been caused by negligence.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Alissa de Carbonnel; writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; additional reporting by Ludmila Danilova; editing by Andrew Roche)