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Pakistan blast kills 45, injures 150
( 2003-08-04 08:59) (Agencies)

Explosives used for building a water channel blew up in a northern Pakistani village early Sunday, killing 45 people and injuring 150 others, officials said.

The dynamite was stored in the home of a local contractor, Waris Khan, who died in the explosion in Ghair, said Hussain Khan, a police official. The blast, 180 miles east of Gilgit, was apparently accidental, caused by a fire from an electrical short circuit, he said.

Villager Ghulam Sakhi said that the home, made of wood, caught fire about midnight, and more than 200 neighbors, including women and children, rushed to help extinguish the blaze.

¡°But the flames reached a big room where explosives were stored, triggering blasts,¡± Sakhi said.

Many of the 45 killed were women and children, and rescue crews were digging through debris searching for more bodies, Khan said.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf quickly sent a message to the victims¡¯ families, and he ordered an inquiry into the explosion, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

So far, investigators only know that the contractor planned to use the explosives to clear rocks for constructing a government-funded water channel, said Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, director general of the National Crisis Management Cell in the Interior Ministry.

The blast badly damaged more than a dozen houses and at least 13 people were missing, Cheema said.

About 150 people were taken to hospitals, where some of them were listed in critical condition and many others were discharged after initial treatment, he said.

¡°About 63 people are now being treated in three hospitals,¡± he said.

Construction crews frequently use explosives to clear land for roads and other projects in the scenic mountainous area ¡ª home to K-2, the world¡¯s second-tallest peak. The government is trying spur economic growth in the poor region and make it more accessible to tourists.

Many Pakistani construction companies and fireworks shops do not have proper storage facilities for explosives, so there¡¯s a constant threat of serious accidents.

Last month, a blast at a fireworks plant killed a woman and her two children in the eastern city of Lahore. Police suspected that a record-breaking heat wave sparked the explosion.


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