A massive medical evacuation operation was underway to airlift victims of Monday’s deadly fuel depot explosion near Stepanakert to Armenia.
The Artsakh authorities announced that the death toll from the blast was 68, but cautioned that the number could rise as the investigation into the blast continued with 150 people unaccounted for. Officials also said that some 290 people were injured.
Shortly after sundown on Monday an explosion rocked a fuel depot set up to provide free gas to residents leaving Artsakh for Armenia after last week’s large-scale attack by Azerbaijan that has displaced tens of thousands of people.
A convoy of ambulances, escorted by Russian peacekeepers, entered Artsakh from Armenia via the Lachin Corridor on Tuesday, with medical specialists heading there to treat the badly burned victims of the blast.
The more critically injured were airlifted to Armenia, with the first helicopter landing in Sisian on Monday morning, Armenia’s health ministry said.
Those airlifts continued throughout Tuesday with the patients being accompanied by Russian peacekeeping forces on the flights. The helicopters being deployed are also bringing in much-needed medical supplies to deal with the treatment of the blast victims.
Armenia’s Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan on Tuesday visited some of the victims who were airlifted to Armenia.
Some 23 seriously or critically injured victims were being treated at the Yerevan burn center.
“The transfer of the victims of the explosion will continue constantly, in shifts, and as quickly as possible. Our goal is to quickly transport all victims to Armenia,” Avanesyan said. “The transfer will be carried out without interruption. We will try to maximally swiftly transport the people with our entire capacity until evening.”
The cause of the explosion is unclear. Davit Babayan, an advisor to the Artsakh president, told Azatutyun.am that the authorities in Artsakh believe it was most probably an accident caused by “negligence.” He said they are hardly in a position to conduct an investigation given the ongoing exodus of Artsakh’s population to Armenia after last week’s massive attack by Azerbaijan on the region.