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ULYANOVSK, Russia (Reuters) - At least two people were killed on Friday when a chain of explosions ripped apart a Russian arms depot on Friday, shattering windows for miles around and forcing the evacuation of 3,000 people.
Russia's Federal Security Service said a fire broke out at 1300 GMT (1:00 p.m. British time) when soldiers attempted to decommission munitions at navy Arsenal No. 31 on the outskirts of Ulyanovsk, a city of 625,000 people, 800 km (500 miles) southeast of Moscow.
The fire raged for at least five hours, lighting up the evening sky above the city, said a Reuters witness who added the windows of houses several kilometres away were shattered by the force of the blasts.
A Defence Ministry spokesman said two people were killed and seven injured. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered officials to ensure civilians were properly evacuated.
Ulyanovsk Governor Sergei Morozov said more than 40 people who had been feared dead had been found alive and well in a bomb shelter at the depot.
"I am extremely happy that more than 40 people escaped from that warehouse because they were exactly those people we considered were missing," Morozov said in comments broadcast on Russia's First Channel television.
Morozov said he did not see any "particular cause for concern" for local residents.
"The dangerous radius is not more than 7 kilometres," Morozov told Vesti-24 state television.
Witnesses compared the blast to a giant firework display, visible from 15 km (eight miles) away. At least 400 firefighters battled the flames for hours. At least two military firemen were killed, the Defence Ministry said.
Russia's poorly trained and badly paid military has suffered frequent accidents with their ageing equipment in recent years. Western military attaches say safety standards are low.
Previous mishaps in the Russian armed forces have sometimes led to sackings of senior generals and military officials.
The Prosecutor-General's main investigative unit said in a statement that a criminal case had been opened for negligence and breaching rules on handling weapons.
Russia's navy chief, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, took a flight to the region to head a commission looking into the accident, a Defence Ministry spokesman said.
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Conor Humphries; Editing by Jon Hemming)