An explosion took place at a Denel munitions depot near Somerset West. Eight people were killed and several were injured. Photo: Phando Jikelo / African News Agency (ANA).

Macassar resident Sophie Abrahams heard the blast and rushed to her 71-year-old uncle in Marvin Park, neighbouring the factory.

A massive blast at the Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) facility near Somerset West killed eight people on Monday afternoon. It could not be confirmed how many had been injured.

“I heard the blast faintly and then the earth shook beneath me briefly, and as I went out, people said it was the factory.

‘‘My uncle is a pensioner and lives right next to the factory, and I rushed to make sure he and his daughter were safe. Thank God they were.”

Abrahams said despite initial reports and much confusion, authorities did not evacuate the area.

Jaihne Magerman, 18, from Heldervue in Somerset West, said: “There is construction right next door, so I thought it was something there, and a while ago a movie was shot nearby.

“As I went inside the house I just saw the windows shake and my friends messaged me to ask if I felt it as well.”

Magerman said she went out and saw smoke billowing from the direction of the factory.

The explosion was reported at 3.45pm yesterday and caused panic in the neighbouring areas of Macassar, Firgrove and Somerset West, with anxious relatives trying to make sure their loved ones were unharmed. Traffic into the areas was gridlocked.

Denel is the largest manufacturer of defence equipment in South Africa and operates in the military aerospace and landward defence environment,

City fire and rescue spokesperson Theo Layne said their members responded around 3.45pm.

“On arrival, it was ascertained that an explosion had occurred and staff of the factory were extinguishing the subsequent fire. Eight people are confirmed dead.”

Layne said 15 firefighters with three fire engines responded to the scene, and as yet, the cause of the explosion was not known.

A spokesperson for Denel, Vuyelwa Qinga, said the company had learnt with shock of the tragic explosion that resulted in a fire at the RDM site in Somerset West.

“Should the deaths that the media has reported on be confirmed, Denel SOC Ltd sends our deepest condolences to the families of anyone who has lost life in this incident.

“Denel SOC is a 49% strategic partner to Rheinmetall, a company of German origin. The two companies are run independently of each other with different boards and management structures.

“At the moment, Denel SOC does not have any official information with regard to the tragic events of this afternoon. We are in constant contact with RDM to share information with us as things unfold.”

Qinga said that as soon as they had more information, it would be shared with the public.

The provincial ANC relayed its support to the families of the eight confirmed dead and those who were injured.

“We continue to monitor the situation through our councillor on the ground and we hope there will be no more deaths. At this stage the cause of the explosion is unknown.

“We commend the swift response of the fire and rescue team and this has gone a long way in minimising the impact of the explosion.”