COLOMBO: Powerful explosions continued to ripple through a military ammunition depot on the edge of Sri Lanka's capital today, as firefighters battled huge blazes six hours after the initial blasts that have forced thousands to flee.
Police said the explosions at the Salawa military had diminished in strength but residents were still being told to leave the area which was blanketed with heavy smoke as officials tried to determine the cause of the blasts.
At least one soldier died of burns and two others were wounded following the fire and explosions, according to private television network Sirasa, though officials did not confirm any fatalities.
Residents in Salawa were seen running from their homes in droves as police reported debris hitting the main highway and residential neighbourhoods.
The night sky was bright with an orange glow as huge fires raged and the area continued to shake every few minutes.
Flying debris could be seen from three kilometres away, an AFP photographer said.
Police said at least three people were injured and taken to nearby hospitals.
"One of them had been hit on the head by shrapnel, but he is out of danger," a police official told AFP.
The army stored heavy weaponry and ammunition, including rockets, at the sprawling Salawa camp located at a former plywood factory about 36 kilometres (26 miles) east of Colombo.
"Pretty chaotic scenes on the road," Sri Lanka's Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva, who was travelling in the area, said on Twitter.
"I am estimating that thousands are evacuating."
Officials urged residents within a two-kilometre (one-mile) radius to stay away until the fire was completely out.
"We have closed the road and asked all residents to leave out of consideration for their safety," a police officer at the scene told AFP.
Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake said the police Criminal Investigation Department had been asked to look into the cause of the explosions.