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Firemen killed in explosions unaware of chemicals

(Mizzima) – Five firemen who died in explosions at a state-owned chemical storage warehouse in Mingalar Taungnyunt Township in Rangoon on Thursday were apparently unaware of hazardous chemicals in the warehouses.

Firemen extinguish secondary fires on Thursday, December 29, 2011. The huge explosion destroyed warehouses in a state-owned chemical storage facility in Mingalar Taungnyunt Township in Rangoon. Photo: Mizzima
Authorities said the death toll now numbers more than 20 dead and 91 people injured. According to figures compiled at 5 p.m. on Thursday, the 91 people injured in the disaster included 31 firemen, six reserve firemen and 54 civilians.

An official with the Rangoon Region Central Fire Department told Mizzima: “To prevent the fire from spreading to other areas, the firemen only devoted their attention to extinguishing the fire and then the chemical materials exploded. We did not know that they [the chemical material] were in the warehouses.”

The guards at the warehouses were killed in the explosions, he said.
Four of the dead firemen were from the Mingalar Taungnyunt Fire Department, and one was from the Rangoon Region Central Fire Department. The funerals of the five firemen were held on Thursday evening at Yayway Cemetery.
The explosions damaged eight out of 57 fire engines that responded to the scene.
Sixteen of the warehouses, which are said to be owned by the Ministry of Commerce, were destroyed. Township police said at least one of the warehouses is believed to have contained enamel and chemicals, including ammonia and sulfuric acid, which may have caused the explosions.
“If some materials are combined they can react, explode and cause fires. We think the explosions happened this way,” a police officer at the Mingalar Taungnyunt Township Police Station told Mizzima.
Laboratory tests will be conducted to determine if residual chemical materials in the warehouses posed a danger to people, he said.
Meanwhile, critics have blamed not only the government for storing chemicals in a densely populated area of the city, but also the Myanmar Fire Department for failing to provide systematic training to firefighters to better deal with fires that could pose a hazardous chemical threat.
The explosions caused numerous fires that spread through Khtohseik Ward. Estimates say about 1,000 people from more than 140 families are now homeless.

Victims have taken refuge at primary schools No. 20 and No. 24, and the Mahawizaya Yama Monastery in Patheinnyunt Ward in Tamwe Township, said Mingalar Taungnyunt Township deputy police chief Myo Myint Kyaing, who is managing the rescue effort.
Donations to victims have been provided by the central women’s wing of the National League for Democracy, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, charity groups and individual businessmen who have taken food, clothing, drinking water and medicine to the victims. 

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