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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 August, 2003, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Dozens dead in Pakistan blast
At least 52 people have been killed and 150 injured in a series of explosions in northern Pakistan, officials say.

The blasts are believed to have been caused by explosives used for road building, which were stored at the home of a local contractor.

The explosions occurred in a remote village in Diamir district - about 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the town of Gilgit, some 240 km (150 miles) north of the capital, Islamabad.

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad said almost the entire village was destroyed in the blasts.

Several people are said to be missing and officials have warned the death toll may rise.

Many of the bodies retrieved so far are those of women and children.

Hamid Khan, a doctor at the nearby Chilas valley district hospital, said the explosions were "an unprecedented big disaster in the area".

Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali has ordered a high-level inquiry to establish the real cause of the incident.

Dynamite

Local residents had rushed to extinguish a fire that had broken out without knowing that explosives were stored in the building, police told French news agency AFP.

[I] saw people's bodies flying in the air
Abdul Wahab Khan, eyewitness
While they were tackling the blaze, the explosives caught fire and blew up.

Witnesses said the main blast triggered a series of smaller explosions during which hundreds of dynamite sticks hit nearby houses like missiles.

Villager Abdul Wahab Khan said: "I was woken up by an explosion. I rushed out of the house and saw people's bodies flying in the air."

Another witness, Habib-ur-Rehman, said: "The whole village is in mourning. We are ruined," beating his chest in grief.

Faulty wiring

Police believe the fire and ensuing explosions were accidental.

Interior officials told the Associated Press news agency that the fire was caused by faulty electrical wiring, adding that the house was made of wood and therefore burned easily.

Our correspondent says most of the government and private companies handling explosives in Pakistan rarely follow international safety standards.

As a result there have been a number of serious accidents in the past - but this is the biggest since 1988, when a series of explosions at a clandestine ammunition dump in the city of Rawalpindi killed more than 150 people.


SEE ALSO:
Massive blast 'triggered panic'
03 Aug 03  |  South Asia
Country Profile: Pakistan
06 May 03  |  Country profiles


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