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7 Marines killed in training exercise

Posted at 9:54 AM, Mar 19, 2013

(CNN) — Seven Marines were killed as the result of an explosion Monday night during a Marine Corps training exercise at Hawthorne Army Depot in western Nevada, the Marine Corps said Tuesday. Eight others were injured.

The cause of the blast was a 60 mm round that detonated inside a mortar tube, injuring the mortar crew and supporting personnel, a military official told CNN.

A representative of Nevada’s Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority said four medical helicopters were sent to transport patients to hospitals.

Earlier, Lt. Col. Craig Short, Hawthorne’s deputy commander, said a traffic accident at the facility around 10 p.m. was related to the blast, but he didn’t explain what the connection was.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who represents Nevada, called it “quite a big explosion” and said the area of the blast was cordoned off as details emerged.

“We don’t know exactly what happened, but it was a violent explosion, we know that,” he said. “Our thoughts are with those who were injured and of course the families of those who lost loved ones.”

The lot identification number for the ammunition that exploded will be flagged and other explosives will be pulled from use pending an investigation into the accident, a senior U.S. military official said. A notice will tell units that if they have similar lot numbers, the mortars shouldn’t be used for now. It is unclear if the notification has been sent.

The moratorium doesn’t extend to all 60 mm mortars, the source said.

The Hawthorne Army Depot, about 140 miles southeast of Reno, is used for storing ammunition and weapon stocks awaiting demilitarization. The facility also provides high desert training facilities for military units.

President Barack Obama was immediately made aware of the incident, and the White House is monitoring the situation, spokesman Jay Carney said.

“We are obviously in the early stages of assessing the incident,” he said. “It is a tragedy, clearly.”

CNN’s Mike Mount and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.