A fire broke out at an army camp near Sri Lanka’s capital, setting off explosions and damaging hundreds of nearby homes, officials said Monday. One soldier was killed.
It was not immediately clear what caused the fire Sunday night at the Salawa army camp, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) east of the capital, Colombo.
The explosions sent shrapnel and munitions flying into the surrounding area, damaging hundreds of homes and a government hospital, and forcing thousands of people to evacuate, officials said. On Monday morning, shrapnel and mortar shells could be seen scattered in people’s front yards. Local television channels and news websites showed videos and pictures of heavily damaged houses and vehicles.
Soldiers managed to douse the flames at the camp, but small blasts were still erupting at an ammunition depot and were expected to continue through Monday, military spokesman Brig. Jayanath Jayaweera said, adding that the explosions posed no threat.
One soldier was killed and eight were injured, according to Health Ministry spokesman Nipuna Ekanayake. He said 39 other people were treated at a hospital for smoke inhalation before being released.
Thousands of nearby residents who were evacuated from a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius around the site Sunday night were being allowed to return to their homes Monday morning, except within a kilometer (half a mile) from the camp, which soldiers have yet to declare safe.
Minister of Law and Order Sagala Ratnayake said the fire started at a small arms depot and then spread to other depots where heavy weapons, such as artillery shells, were stored.