Growing public anger against munitions storage facility in wake of blast

Photo: isifa / MAFRA / Zdeněk Němec

Almost a fortnight after a devastating explosion at a munitions depot in Vrbětice, south Moravia, pyrotechnics teams are still struggling to bring the situation under control. Live munitions scattered about the site have been triggering further explosions day and night, and people living in the close vicinity of the accident are calling for the army to get involved.

Photo: isifa / MAFRA / Zdeněk Němec
Thirteen days after the devastating explosion at the Vrbětice munitions depot leased by a private company, emergency crews have failed to get the situation under control. Fires in the epicenter of the blast still smolder and the heat is igniting munition scattered hundreds of meters around. Two villages had to be evacuated for safety reasons over a period of 48 hours and even now people living in the vicinity do not feel safe. There are other warehouses containing munition in the area which were not affected by the blast and which are still at risk in view of the continuing smaller explosions in the close vicinity. The munitions in storage ranged from anti-tank shells to air bombs and it is not clear how much unexploded munition remains on the premises. Pyrotechnics experts reached the epicenter on several occasions but were repeatedly pushed back by the heatwave emanating from it.

The Security Council of the Zlín region has called on the Defense Ministry to get involved and clear the devastated region of all explosives. And the two villages located nearest the site say they want the munitions depot to be removed completely. Zdeněk Hověžák whose party won the recent municipal elections in Vlachovice says the locals no longer feel safe.

“If whoever is responsible for the management and security at this depot does not have the situation under control then obviously we do not want to have these munitions warehouses here.”

Zlín governor Stanislav Mišák,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki
Zlín governor Stanislav Mišák echoes these sentiments and says that it is time for the army to get involved, clear the site of all munitions and transport them to some other location where they will not present a health hazard.

“ We want this place cleaned out and made safe and from what we are seeing it is no longer in the power of the police or its pyrotechnics experts to do that. “

The Defense Ministry says it is not in a position to take over clean-up work or transport the munition elsewhere since it belongs to the Ostrava-based firm Imex Group. However Defense Minister Martin Stopnický told journalists the army is willing to provide whatever assistance may be needed.

“If there is a need to reinforce security at the site, send specialists in the given field or provide technology then we are ready to do so. We have been waiting for an official request. “

With or without the army’s help pyrotechnics experts will push ahead with controlled detonations over several more weeks. A search is also on for two missing company employees who disappeared on the night of the accident and are presumed dead. When an investigation into the accident may begin remains unclear.