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Published: Monday, 3/12/2012

159 blast victims buried in mass funeral in Congo

Day marked by chaos, anguish

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Soldiers guard coffins at the funeral in Brazzaville for victims of an explosion in the main military arms depot. Not all bodies could be identified in time for Sunday’s rite. Soldiers guard coffins at the funeral in Brazzaville for victims of an explosion in the main military arms depot. Not all bodies could be identified in time for Sunday’s rite.
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BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo — Women wearing masks against the odor of death threw themselves over the graves of their dead children, while men had to be restrained to stop them from hurling themselves onto the ground as 159 victims of last week’s weapons depot explosion were laid to rest in a mass funeral Sunday.

The Republic of Congo government scrambled to organize Sunday’s mass burial, which took place one week after a weapons depot inside a military barracks caught fire, setting off a lethal rain of grenades, mortar rounds, shells, and rockets.

At least 246 people were killed, but only 159 of the bodies could be identified in time for Sunday’s funeral.

The scene at the morgue in the hours before the burial, and at the cemetery after the coffins were lowered, was one of chaos and anguish.

Families arrived on Saturday and camped out in the morgue’s parking lot, waiting for their names to be called on the morgue’s speakers. They stood holding shopping bags with the new clothes they had bought to dress their loved ones.

When their turn came, they were handed gas masks and ushered into the morgue.

Inside, female relatives washed the women’s bodies as male relatives washed the men’s, a funeral rite common in much of Africa.

Anger at the government is starting to boil over.

The road to the cemetery had to be cordoned off by riot police on Sunday, after frustrated mourners began hurling stones. Families were promised about $1,000 per relative for burial clothes. Fights broke out at the cashier set up inside the morgue when many were given less.

The cause of the fire that set off the detonation has been blamed on a short circuit, but residents claim witnesses saw a soldier throw a cigarette inside the armory.



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