Bombs defused safely
By Felister Peter and Correspondent Zuwena Shame
There was palpable panic among residents of Dar es Salaam`s Mbagala suburb yesterday as the time for detonation of 75 bombs drew near.
The reason: many relived memories of last week`s accidental bomb explosions that have claimed more than 20 lives and left over 4,000 families homeless.
However, a special team of Tanzania People`s Defence Forces (TPDF) field engineers defused the bombs without incident.
Military and other authorities monitoring the detonation exercise spoke of a generally smooth execution of the operation, whose conclusion now suggests that people inhabiting surrounding areas can live without fear of similar destructive blasts in the future.
Despite official assurances by political leaders and the army that yesterday`s explosions would cause no harm to people or their property, scores of families fled the area set aside for the detonation exercise hours earlier.
Defence and National Service minister Hussein Mwinyi announced on Wednesday that bombs which did not go off during last week`s tragic incident but had lost ``stability`` would be detonated yesterday afternoon.
He called on residents of areas near the military camp where the accident occurred, which was also earmarked for yesterday`s event, to keep at least 500 meters away.
But that distance sounded too close for comfort for the devastated residents, most of whom appeared completely unable to withstand any further explosions.
Long queues were seen yesterday as people vacated the area since early morning, many using public transport to go to distant destinations like Kongowe, Yombo Vituka, Kibada as well as Ikwiriri in Coast Region.
Mbagala Kuu and Maendeleo primary schools remained closed for the rest of the afternoon, with parents and guardians taking their children away from the vicinity.
They did not want the children to experience more deafening blasts and the risk of death or injuries.
The accidental explosions at the military stockroom at Mbagala on Wednesday last week left 25 people dead and caused massive destruction to property, with at least 4,631 houses destroyed or seriously damaged.
Hours before yesterday`s detonations, armed police and military officers were seen patrolling the area to make sure that everything was set for the smooth implementation of the exercise.
An ongoing exercise to verify the extent of the destruction and the assistance needed by surviving victims of the earlier explosions was suspended, as most members of families in need of help had long moved to safer ground.
The entire area was all but deserted, with shops, restaurants and other businesses at the local market remained closed. Calls for patience had done little to calm nerves.
Hemedi Seukwa, whose house was reduced to rubble in last week’s tragic incident, said his wife and three children had left for Mtoni Kijichi - some 2 km away - hours earlier and were unlikely to return before nightfall.
``My wife told me that she would not return before Sunday, and then only upon being assured of normalcy. I am taking care of what few earthly belongings we are left with, or thieves will disappear with everything.
And I too must leave this danger zone now,``explained a panicky Seukwa, as he gathered his belongings ready for departure.
Moments later, the firing started. The subsequent two hours of scheduled deafening explosions, from around 5pm, brought most routine activities in the area to a standstill.
The bomb explosions brought a totally new experience to the majority of the people, residents of a country that has known decades of uninterrupted peace and tranquility.
Speaking to journalists shortly after the detonations, Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner William Lukuvi said the exercise was a resounding success.
``It was very professionally and successfully executed. There was neither loss of life or limb nor damage to property,`` he noted.
He added that the bombs destroyed were those which remained in the ill-fated armoury and not the ones collected from residential areas after last week`s blasts.
But The Guardian witnessed two people, Mbagala woman Matilda Saidi and Balili Secondary School student Rosemary Daniel, faint shortly after the first explosions. They were immediately whisked away by Red Cross staff for first aid.
Meanwhile, Lukuvi told journalists that a woman injured in last week`s blasts died yesterday, bringing the number of people killed in the tragic incident to 26.
He said Temeke municipal hospital had reported receiving 18 more people hurt in the first blasts, ten of whom were attended to and discharged and the rest were admitted.