Deadly explosions at Thai army store
By CNN's Correspondent Tom Mintier
BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- At least 17 people are missing and feared dead and dozens injured after a series of explosions ripped through an army base in northeastern Thailand.
The explosions began around 9:00 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) on Thursday at the ammunition dump in Korat, about 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Bangkok, and burned out of control for more than seven hours.
Thai officials have warned that the death toll could rise because they have been unable to get close to the site.
Local television reports have said as many as 50 people may have been killed as rockets, mines and artillery shells exploded in the heat of the flames.
Five security guards and 12 army officers have been listed as missing, officials said, and more than 60 people were hurt, most with shrapnel wounds, according to local hospitals.
Shortly after the first blasts, thousands of people were evacuated from nearby schools and villages.
The provincial governor also ordered the evacuation of Pakchong, a town of about 20,000 residents on the main highway between Korat and Bangkok.
A local television reporter described a thick column of black smoke rising from the scene. He said chaos broke out as people rushed to leave the area, and that all shops in the area are now closed.
The Thailand government says it does not suspect sabotage.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said initial reports from the area suggested the explosion was accidental.
Interior Minister Purachai Piemsomboon told reporters the fire erupted after a military truck exploded while it was being loaded.
This caused a chain reaction, he said, as the truck was at arsenal no. 5, where hundreds of tons of ammunition were stored.
"We have to evacuate people for the sake of their safety, both from chemical smoke and the possibility of more explosions," said Purachai.
Witnesses interviewed by the army-run City Radio said they saw flames shooting about 100 meters (300 feet) above the depot.
The blasts, which were audible over the live radio broadcast, were felt several kilometers away, they said.
Other witnesses said they could still hear explosions more than four hours after the first blast, which shattered windows as much as seven km (four miles) away.
"The warehouse belongs to the army and stores all kinds of artillery for guns and mines," Major General Jongsak Panichkul, head of the Army's Civil Affairs Office, told Reuters news agency.
The Thai military said that at least four of 50 ammunition storage buildings on the base had been destroyed in the explosions.
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