The Karabakh fuel depot explosion death toll reached 170 on Friday, coinciding with an ongoing exodus from the recently captured ethnic Armenian enclave. The United Nations plans to assess humanitarian needs in the region this weekend, marking its first access in about 30 years.

The death toll from a Nagorno-Karabakh fuel depot blast soared to 170 on Friday as the exodus from the ethnic Armenian enclave following its fall to Azerbaijani forces continued unabated.

Monday’s explosion on the outskirts of rebel stronghold Stepanakert added to the human drama playing out along the high mountain border between rivals Armenia and Azerbaijan for the past week.

The highway between Kornidzor and Stepanakert in Azerbaijan’s Lachin district where Armenian refugees flood out of Nagorno-Karabakh after Baku claimed control of the separatist statelet in a lightning offensive the week before on September 27, 2023. (Planet Labs PBC, AFP)

Karabakh refugees, their supplies of everything from food to medicine choked off by a nine-month Azerbaijani blockade, were scrambling to stock up on fuel at one of the few functioning petrol stations before leaving their homeland.

Images taken by frightened families showed a fireball the size of a football field erupting high into the night sky.

It wounded hundreds and left scores unaccounted for.

The separatist government said on Friday that forensic experts had been able to piece together “170 remains” of bodies that will be brought to Armenia for identification.

Armenian refugees wait in a square of Goris city center on September 29, 2023, before being evacuated in various Armenian cities, as the exodus from the Nagorno-Karabakh ethnic Armenian enclave following its fall to Azerbaijani forces continued unabated. (Alain Jocard, AFP)

It added that 349 people, most of them suffering severe and critical burns, were being treated in hospitals across the region.

The United Nations will send a mission to Nagorno-Karabakh this weekend, mainly to assess humanitarian needs, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced, adding that the body had not had access to the region “in about 30 years.”

Empty enclave

Azerbaijan might end up taking over little more than empty homes and uncultivated fields by the time the separatist government hands over its remaining authorities to Baku.

Yerevan said 93,000 of the region’s estimated 120,000 people had fled since Azerbaijan unlocked the only road linking Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia on Sunday.

Refugees drive their vehicles before crossing the border at Lachin district on September 28, 2023. More than 84,000 Armenians have fled Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia, Yerevan said on September 29, 2023. (Siranush Sargsyan, AFP)

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) on Friday announced an emergency appeal for 20 million Swiss Francs ($22 million).

The exodus has been accompanied by accounts of families burning their belongings so that they do not fall into Azerbaijani hands.

Katrine Dige Houmøller, with AFP