Bloomberg News

Cyprus Blast Kills 12, Injures 62, Reduces Power by 50%

July 11, 2011

(Updates with death of naval chief in fourth paragraph.)

July 11 (Bloomberg) -- A fire and explosion at a Cyprus naval base that damaged an adjacent power plant killed 12 people, injured 62 others and knocked out 50 percent of the island’s electricity supply, the Cyprus government said.

A bush fire, which started in dry grass about 4 a.m. local time, spread to explosives stored at the Evangelos Florakis naval base in Mari on the southern coast and set off munitions seized from a ship in 2009, state broadcaster CyBC said.

“Of the 62 injured, two are in a serious condition,” government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou told reporters in Nicosia today. “The exact cause of the fire has yet to be determined, but we are ruling out sabotage based on current information.”

Both the Cypriot Defense Minister Costas Papacostas and Army Chief Petros Tsalikides resigned and both resignations were accepted, he said. Cyprus has declared three days of national mourning. The dead included the head of the Cyprus Navy and the commander of the naval base, the New York Times reported, citing the Defense Ministry.

Many of those injured were driving past the plant and base and were hit by flying metal, Health Minister Christos Patsalides said.

Damage to the Vassilikos plant, the country’s largest, knocked out about half the island’s power-producing capacity, the energy regulator said. Generation island-wide, which fell to 140 megawatts at the time of the incident from about 700 megawatts, rose to 560 megawatts as of 3:00 p.m., local time, according to the Cyprus Transmission System Operator.

Power Output

The disabled plant accounts for 767 megawatts of Cyprus’s total power generation capacity of 1,436 megawatts, according to the operator’s website. “Whether it will take weeks or months to restart the plant is something we can’t say at the moment,” Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC) spokesman Costas Gavrielides said in a telephone interview.

Fifty firefighters and 10 fire trucks fought the blaze, said a fire official who declined to be identified. Leonidas Leonidou, spokesman for the fire department, said the fire at the base was under partial control and some fires still burning at the power station didn’t threaten the fuel depots.

Electricity demand for air conditioning in Cyprus, one of Europe’s hottest countries, peaks in the summer. The EAC, the island’s state-run power company, asked consumers to cut power usage and not use air conditioners after the explosion at the nearby naval base damaged the distribution network, according to an e-mailed statement.

Huge Disaster

“The blast caused a huge disaster at the power station,” Giorgos Siammas, chairman of the Cyprus Energy Regulatory Authority, told Cyprus state radio. “Owners of reserve generators must put them into operation.”

Hermes Airports, operator of Cyprus’s two international airports, said in an e-mailed statement they have reduced air conditioning to the lowest possible levels and started power generators at the two airports.

Cyprus’s Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment Ministry called on consumers to restrict water consumption to ‘necessary use’ after it suspended operations at all the country’s desalination plants due to power problems. The British Broadcasting Corporation reported on its web site that six of the company’s eight relay transmitters at close by Zigy were without power cutting its English-language broadcasts to the Middle East.

‘Our aim is to solve the power problem and to meet demand in the middle of the peak tourist season,” Stefanou said.

The EAC is examining the possibility of bring mobile power generators to Cyprus and will prioritize electricity supply to hospitals, airports, the police and for water pumping and then to main tourist areas followed by large industrial users, the Nicosia-based company said in a separate e-mailed statement today. Possible power cuts rotated across the country of unknown duration may also affect consumers.

Emergency Meeting

Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, who described the scene at the base as a “biblical catastrophe,” called an emergency cabinet meeting for 12:30 p.m. Cyprus time today, according to an e-mailed statement from his office. Cyprus will seek emergency assistance from the European Union, CyBC said, citing Interior Minister Neoklis Silikiotis.

The government spokesman confirmed that the munitions that exploded came from the Russian-owned, Cypriot-flagged vessel Monchegorsk that was intercepted by Cyprus in 2009. .

The U.S., Britain and France said at the time that the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines chartered the vessel to send weapons-related material, including what they described as “bullet shells” and anti-tank munitions, to Syria. Iran said the seizure of the arms shipment was illegal.

Three staff members at the power plant were injured and there were no fatal casualties, the EAC’s Gavrielides said.

--Editors: James Kraus, Tim Farrand, Philip Sanders

To contact the reporters on this story: Stelios Orphanides in London at sorphanides@bloomberg.net; Paul Tugwell in Athens at ptugwell1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Craig Stirling at cstirling1@bloomberg.net


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