Standing in the wreckage of the small bar he owned in the Mpila district of Brazzaville, Simplice Gaylolo knew where he put the blame for the arms dump blast that ripped a hole in the Congo Republic's capital.

We've lost absolutely everything ... it's the fault of the government for not taking precautions, Gaylolo complained as he gestured at the military base next door, surrounded by buildings flattened by the explosion in the early hours of Sunday.

Around 200 people were killed by the blast sparked by a fire at the Regiment Blinde arms dump, medical and local authorities said. A similar number were seriously wounded and an unknown number of more bodies are still hidden under tons of wreckage.

Living cheek by jowl with left-over munitions has been a feature of life in Brazzaville since the 1997 civil war, when rival factions of the army turned it into a battlefield for months.

Jammed up tight against the Blinde dump, neighbourhoods like Mpila stood little chance against a blast so fierce it blew out windows 4 km (2-1/2 miles) over the Congo river in Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo.

We shouldn't have been allowed to live so near the camp, said Victoire Ndzota, whose house was also wrecked.

We've had no help, no assistance from the government, not even consolation. We'll just have to manage on our own, she shrugged, adding she and her family hoped to be taken in by friends.


Aid agencies estimated that at least 2,000 people have been forced out of their homes by the explosions and there are concerns about the government's ability to cope.

The government's response has been blurred and uncoordinated, they really need assistance, one humanitarian worker said.

Emilienne Raoul, Congo's minister for humanitarian affairs, said the government had set up three camps to deal with those who had been made homeless by the blast but the government was struggling to manage the situation, including treating those who had been severely injured and recovering dead bodies.

There are still bodies in the camp and perhaps also survivors, and for that we really don't have the skills to (get them out), Raoul told journalists.

We're looking to the ministry of defence to manage this, because we want very quickly to be able to have numbers of those who have died and those who survived. The families need this, they must know, Raoul said, adding that the government also need assistance on emergency aid response.

While the oil-producer has seen coups and civil war since independence from France in 1960, it has remained largely peaceful in recent years. President Denis Sassou-Nguesso's government has at various times acknowledged that something must be done about the inner-city arms stocks.

But somehow the promise never made it to reality.

Brazzaville on Monday was a city full of residents walking amid the destroyed houses with luggage balanced on their heads, with others searching debris for their belongings - or bodies.

Roads near the military camp were lined with tired looking soldiers who fled the camp after the blast and were drinking beer at bars that survived the blast, whilst a steady stream of cars and carts, piled high with fridges, freezers, chairs and other salvaged items, was leaving the area.

The main road to the camp was barred by soldiers, but it was still possible to see buildings within the perimeter, devastated by the blast.

It is too hard to bear, this is a real catastrophe, said resident Christephane Ilich. Look - if you start searching inside this bit here you will see bodies straight away, he said, pointing to a section of debris nearby.

Lionel Cattanei, head of local operations for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), an agency that works to alleviate the aftermath of conflict, said a project to destroy the munitions had been agreed but had not quite got off the ground.

The problem was taken into account by the Congolese authorities, said Cattaneo. The project has not been finalised yet, but these were problems that the government was aware of.

(Additional reporting by Christian Tsoumou in Brazzaville; Writing by Mark John and Bate Felix; Editing by Giles Elgood)