Seven months ago, a deadly explosion rocked a munitions depot in Vrbětice near Zlín, killing two on-site employees and destabilising the entire complex. The police and eventually the Czech Army were called in to secure the area as random uncontrolled blasts continued. This Tuesday, Police President Tomáš Tuhý visited the site and offered an update.
The clean-up at Vrbětice has been on-going ever since random explosions of damaged munitions petered off last December and the site was deemed safe enough for police pyrotechnics experts to enter. In early February, the first trucks removing secure munitions began to roll out and to date 120 truckloads have been removed, either to a new site which had been mothballed previously or to international buyers, who had ordered some materials earlier.
But plenty of work, an estimated 400 additional truckloads, remains. What is more, the site remains dangerous and clean-up can by slowed by poor weather conditions, namely rain. To aid in the clean-up inwards from the perimeter, pyrotechnics experts as well as the local police branch on Tuesday received newly-bought armoured vehicles. Police President Tomáš Tuhý spoke on Czech TV:
“We have equipped pyrotechnics experts with new armoured vehicles to help them in their work… At a time when a part of the munitions complex has been fully cleared, we need for our specialists to be able to move through the area quickly... This is still a very dangerous area, which has been compromised. The complete surroundings will likely take years to clear and right now we are still operating only on the outer perimeter.”
Because of the risk, police investigators will have to wait before they can assess the site of the original blast and a second explosion which followed in November; investigators are pursuing the theory both explosions may have been intentional. Police President Tomáš Tuhý again:
“We are not even in the main area yet and that too will take several months to clean that up. It may take a year before an investigation of the epicentre can begin.”
A lawyer for Imex Group on Tuesday questioned on Czech TV what police would find on site in a year’s time other than undergrowth, elaborating that there was no motive for the explosions to have been on purpose. The police, however, do suspect wrongdoing and have additionally charged five suspects from two weapons trading companies, Excalibur Army and Real Trade which had munitions in the destroyed buildings, with violating the law on arms licensing and holding illegal weapons, over the alleged holding of apparently illegal landmines. Excalibur Army has strongly rejected the accusation.
Meanwhile, the region of Zlín has to date received 118 compensation claims from locals or local legal entities. Although details were not released, local mayors say some of the claims pertained to those working in forestry and agriculture unable to ply their trade after nearby areas were blocked off.
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