Villages damaged by munitions depot blast demanding proper compensation

Vrbětice ammunition depot after the explosions

Villages located in the vicinity of the Vrbětice munitions depot, where life was severely disrupted by the deadly 2014 blasts, have been following developments with shock and anger. The locals are asking why they were not properly protected against the danger of a terrorist attack and are calling on the government to ensure that they receive compensation for the damage caused.

News of Russian involvement in a series of deadly blasts at the arms depot in Vrbětice is stirring a lot of uncomfortable memories in the minds of the locals – the shock of the first explosion, the hundreds of smaller explosions that followed, several evacuations and fear for their own and their family’s safety when they were finally allowed to return home.

The first blast completely devastated large areas of land in private ownership, damaged a local road, shattered windows and left unexploded ammunition scattered kilometres away from the epicentre of the explosion. The owners of land which was contaminated by the blast were not allowed on the property for six years as explosives experts combed the ground in the biggest clean-up operation ever undertaken in this country at a cost of nearly one billion crowns. Nearby forests were considered unsafe for walks and the roads that were not damaged by the blast were damaged by heavy technology as countless trucks went in an out to remove the debris. The mayor of Lipova, Miroslav Svárovský, says that even now forests and plots of land in private ownership are unusable.

Vrbětice ammunition depot,  2014 | Photo: HZS ČR

“The plots of land were returned on the recommendation that people do not use them as arable land, that logging with heavy machinery should not take place because there was no deep ground exploration conducted in the area and there could still be explosives buried deep underground – as indeed has been the case in some places.”

Another nearby village, Slavičín had thirty hectares of forests sealed off, losing money from planned sales of wood. Even if logging were allowed now much of the wood was damaged by shrapnel in the 355 smaller explosions that followed the first blast. According to an expert assessment the village suffered over one million crowns in damages. Previous demands for compensation were rejected on the grounds that the culprit was unknown. So far the villagers have only received 3,100 crowns each for the inconvenience of having had to evacuate. Slavičín Mayor Tomáš Chmelař says he is hoping that the latest developments will open the way for proper compensation.

“Our roads were damaged both in the blast and by the clean-up operation, our forests and arable land were rendered useless, our people could not get to work, they have had to use long detours, wherever they were going, for years. There have been numerous grievances.”

Although the biggest grievance of all –the loss of two lives – can never be remedied, the families of the two men who died in the blast say that they are hugely relieved to hear that the victims’ reputation has been cleared beyond doubt and that any lingering doubts about possible negligence have now been ruled out.