Fifteen people burned in alleged Yarim gunpowder incident [Archives:2006/922/Reportage]

February 20 2006

By: Nashwan Dammaj
The incident occurred simply due to carelessness when two sacks of gunpowder suddenly ignited while being transported on a pickup truck. Loaded with other goods as well, the pickup was traveling through Yarim's Bab Al-Yemen neighborhood, heading for Ali Al-Thawani's trading store. Al-Thawani was riding in the pickup as well.

At approximately 11:45 a.m., fire suddenly filled the area. Although lasting only a few seconds, the fire devoured everything nearby. Those witnessing the incident were unable to determine what happened and have not identified the cause yet. Some guess the gunpowder ignited after someone carelessly threw a cigarette into the gunpowder, not realizing where it would land. Others say the pickup stopped for a while after it suddenly broke down. When it began moving again, a spark ignited the fire.

Details remain inscrutable as security authorities refuse to comment on or give information about the incident. At first, they said they had no idea about the incident. The Yarim Security Department vice manager affirmed that it does not have even the least information about the incident, as there was neither gunpowder nor an explosion. He added that perhaps the incident was mistaken for a car accident that occurred two days later.

Security authorities could not confirm the incident. Even the Traffic Department was surprised to hear about it. Perhaps the accident was untrue after all. However, a traffic policeman revealed (by a seeming slip of the tongue) that a pickup was burned by gunpowder, adding that the pickup now is in the Traffic Department's yard. By permission, the burned pickup was photographed. Back at the Security Department, the vice manager hurriedly left his office, saying, “No comment,” as if addressing a crowd of journalists.

The supposed accident occurred in a sunny area, surrounded by garbage. In a narrow lane nearby called Bab Al-Yemen, two houses were covered in burned gunpowder. Eyewitnesses explained that a fire swiftly and intensively seared the place, not knowing from where it came, as there was neither an explosion, nor an indication of fire.

Anas Al-Hababi, whose shop was partly burned, said some soda cartons prevented the fire from burning him, while others in the shop were slightly burned. They were: Hajji Mohammed Abdan, Mabrouk Al-Daba and Mohammed Sa'd. A child, Khalid Badri, was among the victims, his back fully burned and parts of his face and arms also scorched. However, he fared better than another five children and some men burned in the incident, eyewitnesses said.

Injured victims were taken to Yarim's Yahsub Hospital, but because there was no medicine there, they were sent to Sana'a. Residents are displeased with Yahsub Hospital, which lacks simple first aid medicines, according to them.

Dr. Ali Muharram, head of Yahsub Hospital, said the hospital is in good condition but there is a deficiency of medical supplies. Despite this, the hospital continues receiving patients, treating various medical conditions according to its abilities. Muharram added that gunpowder victims received first aid treatment. In general, Yarim hospitals are not qualified enough to treat serious burns, so victims were sent to Dhamar governorate's General Hospital. Muharram explained that even that hospital declined receiving them. They were then sent to Al-Jumhury Hospital in Sana'a. “Yarim Hospital is rumored to have not offered first aid treatment to the victims. Mobs and the public circulate such rumors trying to defame any good man,” Muharram noted.

Regarding victims' medical conditions, Muharram said, “One was burned so completely that his countenance could not be identified. His condition is so serious that he may not live long. The other victims' conditions vary from each other.”

Two men at the accident site witnessed the incident – the pickup driver and Al-Thawani, the owner of the gunpowder and goods. They were about to be burned but a glass barrier protected them from the fire and they were harmed only slightly. They did not consider that something like this would happen. For them, the load was something familiar, like wheat or sugar, with the two gunpowder sacks wrapped carelessly and loosely.

They currently are in prison and will be referred to Prosecution. There are two large prisons and just one hospital in Yarim city.

The driver was freed on bail while tradesman Al-Thawani remained there. The Prison Department refused access to them, claiming it cannot do anything without permission from the district's General Department. Similarly, General Department officials said they must get permission from the government's General Department.

Some say gunpowder frequently is sold and used in Yarim. It was not the first time Al-Thawani transported gunpowder. He allegedly sells it to well and rock quarry owners and may have a license to do so.

Both security department and prison department officials refused to make any statement regarding gunpowder selling or this incident, saying they thought there was “no need to amplify insignificant matters.”