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BRAZZAVILLE - Around 200 people, including four Chinese workers, have been killed and many more injured in a series of explosions in Brazzaville, the capital of Congo Republic, according to a senior official in the presidency, citing hospital sources.
"According to sources at the central hospital we're talking of around 200 dead and many injured," Betu Bangana, head of protocol in the president's office in Brazzaville, told Reuters by telephone.
Congolese officials earlier said the blasts occurred after a fire started in an arms depot in a military base in the riverside capital.
Xinhua News Agency, quoting the Chinese embassy in Brazzaville, said four Chinese, who belonged to the Beijing Construction Engineering Group, were killed and dozens were injured in the explosions.
Around 130 staff of the company were working on the nearby construction site when the blasts hit the munitions depot, Duan Jinzhu of Chinese embassy said.
About 80 Chinese workers have been transferred to safe areas, Duan added.
The powerful blasts also shattered the windows of the Xinhua bureau office and severely damaged the dormitory of Huawei, a Chinese multinational networking and telecommunications equipment and services company.
The explosions shook houses in Brazzaville and echoed across the Congo River to the capital of the neighboring country.
Didier Boutsindi of the presidential office said the explosions killed an untold number of people, including churchgoers who were killed in the debris of the collapsed building.
"Many of the faithful are trapped in the debris of the church," he said. "Several of the dead have been taken out and I confirm there are more deaths inside."
He said his uncle was killed when his home collapsed on him.
"It's like a tsunami passed through here," said Christine Ibata, a student.
Defense Minister Charles Zacharie Boawo appeared on national television on Sunday to urge calm in Brazzaville and in the neighboring capital of Kinshasa.
Witnesses said the explosions came from the north of the city and that the impact of the blasts threw open doors of houses in the city center. The explosions also prompted some residents of the northern part of the city to flee south.