BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo — More than three days have passed since a catastrophic explosion laid waste to a section of the Republic of Congo's capital, and officials confirmed that as of Wednesday no coordinated rescue effort had been launched, making it increasingly unlikely any more people will be pulled alive from the flattened houses.
The roads leading to the site of the blast have been cordoned off by officers in bulletproof vests. The Red Cross has not received authorization to go inside, said spokesman Delphin Kibakidi. And the columns of soldiers and firefighters that are allowed in are concentrating on extinguishing the flames still burning after the country's military depot caught fire Sunday, setting off a series of detonations so strong that they caused ceilings to cave more than a mile away.
"The only rescue effort was by the people who lived here themselves, and who came back and dug out the bodies of their loved ones," said an army captain who accompanied a team of reporters inside the roped-off disaster area and who asked not to be named because he had not been authorized to speak on the subject.
"I doubt that anyone is still alive, but if they are, they'll need to wait until we put out the fire, because it's too dangerous. There are still unexploded bombs," he said pointing to a smoldering carcass of debris where a team of soldiers were working.
At least 246 people were killed after the fire in the armory catapulted shells, mortars, rockets and other munitions into a densely populated neighborhood in the capital of Brazzaville, according to national radio.
The death toll is likely to rise as the debris is removed.
The government announced a period of national mourning to be observed from Tuesday until victims are buried, at an unknown date.