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IDF team lands in Equatorial Guinea to help after deadly munitions blasts

Israeli delegation made up primarily of medical personnel; African nation’s hospital system overrun after massive explosions on army base kill 105, injure hundreds

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A forklift loads medical equipment onto an airplane on March 10, 2021, for an Israeli delegation heading to Equatorial Guinea following a massive explosion in the African country that injured hundreds. (Israel Defense Forces)
A forklift loads medical equipment onto an airplane on March 10, 2021, for an Israeli delegation heading to Equatorial Guinea following a massive explosion in the African country that injured hundreds. (Israel Defense Forces)

An Israeli medical delegation landed in Equatorial Guinea on Thursday morning to assist the African country after massive explosions on a military base killed over 100 people and injured hundreds, an Israeli general said.

On Sunday, a series of major blasts — apparently triggered accidentally by munitions — on the Nkoa Ntoma camp in the country’s economic hub Bata devastated buildings at the military compound and houses in surrounding districts.

At least 615 people were injured in the explosions and 105 were killed, according to local authorities.

On Tuesday, Israel announced that it would send a medical delegation to assist the country, whose hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of injuries. The blasts were apparently caused by a fire at a weapons depot, which set off the ordnance being stored there.

This TVGE image made from video shows people carrying a victim away after a blast site at a military barracks in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, March 7, 2021. (TVGE via AP)

According to Maj. Gen. Itzik Turgeman, commander of the IDF Logistics and Technology Directorate, the Israeli team included 67 people, 50 of them from the IDF Medical Corps and seven from the IDF Home Front Command, which is in command of the delegation. The remaining 10 people were civilian medical workers sent by the Health Ministry.

The delegation, which touched down on Thursday morning after leaving late Wednesday night, will not perform search-and-rescue operations in Equatorial Guinea, but will instead focus on providing medical care to the wounded, Turgeman said.

An Israeli delegation prepares to travel to Equatorial Guinea on March 10, 2021 after a massive explosion in the African country injured hundreds. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Right now the goal is getting to hospitals as quickly as possible and start to work,” he said.

The IDF Chief Medical Officer, Brig. Gen. Dr. Alon Glasberg, said the medical personnel in the delegation were mostly surgeons and intensive care unit staff.

An Israeli delegation prepares to travel to Equatorial Guinea on March 10, 2021 after a massive explosion in the African country injured hundreds. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli decision to send a delegation came after Spain, Equatorial Guinea’s former colonial power, said an aid plane would leave Madrid on Wednesday with drugs and medical equipment. The United States embassy also said Washington is sending experts to help with damage assessment and reconstruction.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled the oil-rich country with an iron fist for 42 years, once again blamed the military for “negligence” in stocking ammunition so close to residential areas.

He had previously spoken of stubble-burning by local farmers setting off the tragedy.

State television channel TVGE said more than 60 survivors had been found trapped under debris on Monday, including two children, aged three and four.

TVGE has shown images akin to a war zone, with rescue workers and civilians struggling to remove bodies from smoking ruins.

The only Spanish-speaking country in sub-Saharan Africa, Equatorial Guinea is one of the most closed-off nations on the continent.

Bata is home to 800,000 of the country’s 1.4 million people, most of whom live in poverty despite the country’s oil and gas wealth.

Adding to the difficulty in understanding the full scale of the tragedy, air and sea links have been shut off for weeks due to coronavirus restrictions. Only military and government aircraft have made the trip there since the explosions.

Israel routinely sends medical and search-and-rescue crews to countries struck by natural and man-made disasters. Last December, the IDF sent such a delegation to Honduras after two hurricanes devastated the Central America country.

AFP contributed to this report.

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