IMAGE: Police inspect artillery shells
Ferhat Momade  /  AP
Police officers inspect artillery shells Friday after an explosion Thursday night at a weapons depot in Maputo, Mozambique.
updated 3/23/2007 12:06:59 PM ET 2007-03-23T16:06:59

The death toll from an explosion at a weapons depot in a densely populated neighborhood rose to 83 Friday and could climb higher, the health minister said. At least 300 injured were injured by the blast.

Health Minister Ivo Garrido said the casualties included military personnel working on the site and civilians — many of them children — living in a poor neighborhood nearby in the capital.

President Armando Guebuza toured the stricken area and visited victims in hospital. He promised that the ammunitions depot, which contains many obsolete weapons from Mozambique's long civil war, would be moved.

The defense ministry said high temperatures that have gripped Maputo in recent months were the most likely cause. The temperature Thursday was 93 degrees Fahrenheit. The searing heat was blamed for a smaller explosion at the depot in January when three people were injured.

Maputo airport, which was closed late Thursday, remained out of operation Friday, affecting flights to neighboring African countries.

Fire gives off intense heat

Several thousand people spent the night on the streets in downtown Maputo, unable to return to their homes in the poor neighborhood near the ammunitions depot, which was sealed off by police.

A few people tried to return to their homes Friday as the fire had been brought under control.

Guebuza canceled a one-day visit to South Africa and summoned an emergency cabinet meeting. He appeared on television late Thursday to appeal for calm.

At the height of the inferno, some city center windows were shattered by the intense heat. Buildings also shook with the impact of the explosions.

IMAGE: Ammunition depot explodes near Maputo
Pedro Sa Da Bandeira  /  EPA
A woman runs away from explosions at an ammunitions depot near Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, on Thursday.
Mozambique, an impoverished southern African nation still recovering from a long civil war, has been battered by natural disasters this year. Aid agencies have credited Mozambique's good emergency response system with limiting the casualties.

Heavy rains have inundated much of the country since January, causing flooding and prompting tens of thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes. A cyclone hit coastal resorts last month, killing 12 people and battering the nation's fledgling tourist industry. And earlier this week, more homes on the coast were evacuated and sea defenses breached by exceptionally high tides.

The southern part of Mozambique, which includes Maputo, is in the grip of a fierce drought and blistering heat wave.

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