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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
“My house is almost completely destroyed,” said hotel worker Menaka Madhushan, who fled the home when he heard the first explosions. “That decision saved our life.”
He described a demolition scene where his home once stood — its roof now collapsed and the ground littered with debris and at least six artillery shells.”It’s clear those artilleries hit my house,” the 30-year-old said. “I fear the house is beyond repair … this is a huge loss for me.”