US & Canada

Louisiana town evacuates over explosives stockpile

Canadian troops fire a 155mm howitzer in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in April 2007
Image caption M6 propellant is used in howitzers, like this one in Afghanistan

A Louisiana town has been evacuated after officials discovered 6m lb (2.7m kg) of explosive material that they say were stored illegally.

State police found the stockpile of M6 artillery propellant stacked outdoors and without authorisation in buildings in the 800-inhabitant town of Doyline.

The discovery was made by officials during a follow-up inspection after a blast at Explo Systems in October.

Officials expect to work over the next two days to secure the explosives.

'Reckless disregard'

But police officials have said the operation might be suspended if lightning is seen within 5 miles (8km) of the site.

Thunderstorms are forecast for Tuesday. On Monday there was some light rain, but no lightning had been reported.

Schools in Doyline were closed on Monday and are expected to remain shut on Tuesday, local broadcaster WAFB reported.

A criminal investigation has been opened into the discovery, about 270 miles (435km) north-west of New Orleans.

Police estimated after their initial investigation there were about 1m lb of explosives, but found more when they returned on Saturday to begin moving boxes of the material into nearby bunkers.

"It wasn't in their storage magazines," state police spokesman Captain Doug Cain said. "They had it hidden on the property, away from the storage magazines where we would expect to find it."

State police superintendent Col Mike Edmonson said that Explo Systems' "careless and reckless disregard made it unsafe for their own employees, for schoolchildren in Doyline, for the town of Doyline".

M6 propellant is used in howitzers and other artillery. It is stored in pellets that are largely compressed nitrocellulose, also known as guncotton.

Explo Systems is located on a portion of Camp Minden, the site of the former Louisiana Army Ammunitions Plant. Other sections of the camp are used for US National Guard training.

The company's owners have been on a business trip to South Korea, but the manager has been working with state police from the start, Col Edmonson said.