More than 200 people were wounded on Monday in a fuel depot explosion in Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, the human rights ombudsman for the region said.
The cause of the explosion could not immediately be determined, and it was not clear if there were any fatalities, but Armenian separatist officials said, “There are victims and wounded.”
“A strong explosion occurred in the gasoline warehouse near the Stepanakert-Askera highway,” the authorities said in a statement. “At the moment, rescue and medical operative groups are working on the spot.” Stepanakert is the capital of the breakaway region.
The blast comes as thousands of ethnic Armenians have been fleeing the breakaway region since the weekend to cross the border into Armenia, days after a military offensive brought the enclave back under Azerbaijan’s control.
The Associated Press reported that the blast occurred as people were lining up at the gas station to refuel their cars as they were evacuating.
The ethnic Armenian leadership said it would remain in place until all those who wanted to leave the region were able to go. They urged residents to hold back from crowding the roads out but promised free fuel to all those who were leaving, according to Reuters.
The human rights ombudsman, Gegham Stepanyan, elected to that role by the breakaway republic’s lawmaking body, said in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that the majority of the victims were in “severe or extremely severe” condition. He added: “The medical capacities of NK are not enough. Sanitary aviation must land very urgently to save people’s lives.”
A Russian peacekeeping contingent said that some of the wounded had been treated by their medics and that some of the most severely injured had been transferred to their hospital.
Artak Beglaryan, a former senior official of the breakaway government, said in an interview from Stepanakert that the site of the explosion “is not a gas station; it is a fuel reserve — the largest one we had.”
“When it exploded,” he said, it had “dozens of tons of fuel.” He added, “Many people fell down and burned in it, and nothing remained of them. There are for sure deaths.”
Mr. Beglaryan said that many of the injured were in critical condition from the explosion and that officials needed to transfer them to Armenia to receive treatment, “otherwise we will lose them.”
The Armenian Health Ministry said that all possible measures were being taken to transport the victims by air and land to Armenia, according to local news reports.