Up to eight people were killed or injured in a blast at a checkpoint on the Laos-Vietnam border Thursday when a customs officer carried out an inspection of a truck smuggling fireworks, according to officials and state media reports.
The early morning explosion at a customs checkpoint in Sepon district, in Laos’ Savannakhet province, killed three people and injured “four or five,” who were rushed to nearby hospitals for medical treatment, a Lao border security official told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the incident.
The checkpoint is located near what is called the Densavan International Border Gate on the Lao side and the Lao-Bao International Border Gate on the Vietnamese side.
According to the official, who shot video of the incident and provided a copy of it to RFA, the blast occurred around 8:00 a.m. when a customs officer carried out a routine inspection of a truck.
“Fireworks were hidden underneath a load of gypsum and our worker carried out an inspection, poking at the rock with a metal rod,” he said.
“The fireworks exploded, killing three people and injuring four or five others.”
In the video, the official says that the truck was Vietnamese and had been crossing the border into Vietnam at the time of the accident.
“This truck was trying to smuggle firecrackers out [of Laos],” he says.
Fire soon spread to the truck’s gasoline tank, causing a detonation that spread flames to the nearby customs house, sending thick black smoke spewing into the sky, the official said.
“One person who was killed was Vietnamese, the second was a [Lao] warehouse worker, and the third was a [Lao] state employee here on personal business. It was a huge fire which damaged up to 95 percent of the inspection facility.”
After controlling the blaze, authorities blocked off the area and began conducting an initial inspection of the site, a Lao border security officer told RFA.
“Right now, we’re taking care of the dead and the injured; soon we’ll be investigating the cause of the fire and assessing the damage,” the officer said.
“When the truck trailer was being inspected at the examination area, the fire erupted, burning the truck first and then spreading to our office and to other trucks parked nearby. Now, the situation is under control. The fire has been extinguished, but access to the scene is still prohibited.”
RFA also interviewed a witness who declined to be named, but confirmed the official version of events.
“The firecrackers exploded first then the fire spread to the truck’s gas tank, which also exploded, sending flames and a lot of smoke into the sky,” they said.
Vietnamese state media also carried reports of the explosion, saying that of the eight killed and injured, at least four were Vietnamese.
Laodong.vn cited Hoang Huu Thien, Vietnam’s head of the Lao-Bao checkpoint station, who gave a similar account of the events leading to the blast, but said the truck was registered in Laos.
Thien said that two Laotians were killed instantly in the detonation, while six were injured—among them four Vietnamese. The two injured Laotians were sent to Sepon Hospital, while the four injured Vietnamese were taken to a nearby hospital within Vietnam’s borders, he said.
According to Laodong.vn, Vietnamese authorities sent two fire trucks and 20 border soldiers to the site of the explosion to assist in extinguishing the ensuing fire. It said the customs checkpoint where the blast occurred is located some 300 meters (around 1,000 feet) away from border gate.