Police say munitions store explosion likely not accidental

Photo: CTK

A munitions depot outside a village in eastern Moravia continues to make headlines in the Czech Republic. Hours after a pyrotechnics expert said that blasts there last week were unlikely to have been accidental, the site saw fresh blasts on Tuesday night – further delaying complicated clean-up work.

Photo: CTK
Following an initial explosion in October, a munitions depot at Vrbětice in Eastern Moravia returned to the front pages when hundreds of fresh blasts occurred at an adjacent store in the complex last Thursday. This led locals being repeatedly ordered to evacuate.

Finance Minister Andrej Babiš has raised questions about the company that operates the munitions store, Imex Group, saying the second series of explosions could not have occurred by accident.

This claim has now been echoed by the head of the police pyrotechnics team investigating the blasts, Jiří Lačňák.

“If everything is in the state that it should be, there is no threat of a spontaneous explosion. There could only be such a threat if, for instance, the materials were handled in an inappropriate way.”

Photo: CTK
Officer Lačňák says the police are now treating the case as one of reckless endangerment.

Hours after he made that statement on Tuesday, there were more explosions at the site after a lull of four days. Though the detonations were relatively weak, and even went unnoticed by many in the area, the work of pyrotechnics specialists still has to be postponed by the same number of days. They will now not be able to carry out a close examination until, at the earliest, the end of next week.

At the end of this week the Chamber of Deputies is to meet for a special session on the Vrbětice situation, with the opposition likely to make hay from what many perceive to be the government’s poor handling of the situation.

Ahead of Friday’s debate, Defence Minister Martin Stropnický outlined plans for disposing of the explosive materials.

“The greatest share belongs to the company Excalibur and we expect that some of its material will be transferred to a munitions store at Květná. What cannot be removed will be destroyed on site. That which can be removed but is seriously damaged will be removed to the Libavá military area.”

Martin Stropnický, photo: Filip Jandourek
That whole complicated process is expected to take several months, while locals in Květná, which is in Eastern Bohemia, have expressed worries about some materials being transferred to their area.

Meanwhile, newspaper Lidové noviny on Wednesday published the first detailed information about what kind of munitions have been held at the site. Quoting an internal Ministry of Defence document, it says the store held close to 60 aerial bombs, thousands of grenades and machine guns and almost four million rounds of ammunition.