While the authorities are busy cleaning up the trails of the explosions that shook the city of Abadan in Turkmenistan, human rights defenders claim that the government is concealing the real scale of the event.
The affected area is cordoned off and closed for entry, local media report. Police have been ordered to detain anyone who tries to take pictures or mobile phone footage of the site.
“Starting from yesterday, people began returning to the town,” said Farid Tukhabatullin, an editor at the Chronicles of Turkmenistan human rights website. “Fires have been put out. The locals are now helping soldiers to clean up.“
Farid Tukhabatullin says that the residents of Abadan are no longer in a state of panic, but some are still looking for their family members.
“According to reports, the number of casualties and those who died because of injuries has reached 900,” he said. “But we have to verify this information. I cannot guarantee its reliability. But it is certainly more than 200 people. Many died in hospital because of their injuries.”
Some local reports say the Friday blasts happened at an ammunition depot, though the government continues to claim it was at a fireworks factory. The state officials also have not confirmed any casualties.
Turkmenistan has long been a very secretive state with the internet banned until recently.
“In some remote regions, people are not aware of what’s happened, as they have no internet access,” Tukhabatullin said.
Many people cannot contact their families and friends because of disruption to telephone lines.
“Some are perhaps unhappy, as they would like the president to announce a state of mourning, or express his condolences,” he said. “It seems that the authorities are not willing to admit that there are casualties.”
Meanwhile, a special governmental commission has reportedly been set up to investigate Thursday’s explosions.