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Blast at Ecuador Army Base Kills 5

November 21, 2002

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QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ Explosions set off by an accidentally detonated hand grenade tore through an ammunition depot at Ecuador’s largest military base Wednesday, killing five people and injuring about 300, officials said.

The blasts caused a fire that spilled out of the Galapagos Mechanized Base in Riobamba, 100 miles south of Quito, and engulfed a building, said Red Cross volunteer Rosendo Coba.

``You could feel a strong explosion that formed a mushroom cloud like a volcano,″ Coba told Guayaquil’s CRE radio.

People living near the base were evacuated and windows were reportedly blown out more than a mile from the explosions.

The majority of Ecuador’s tank units are located at the Riobamba base, which is reportedly is home to about 1,500 soldiers.

Army spokesman Col. Arturo Cadena told local television that the explosion was caused by the accidental detonation of a hand grenade.

He said that five people _ three civilians and two soldiers _ were killed in the blasts.

Health Minister Vicente Habze told Guayaquil’s CRE radio that about 300 people were wounded and that relief efforts had been hampered by a power outage in the area.

Army Gen. Luis Aguas, a brigade commander in Quito, had earlier said that ammunition apparently detonated at the base caused a second, larger explosion.

Red Cross spokeswoman Monica Menendez said the explosion took place at 4 p.m. and that army helicopters had been sent to Riobamba to evacuate the seriously wounded.

The explosion occurred a few days before a Nov. 24 runoff election for president. Former coup leader Lucio Gutierrez has led millionaire businessman Alvaro Noboa in recent polls, and the winner will replace President Gustavo Noboa, who took office following a 2000 coup.

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