An ammunition dump in a heavily populated area of the rebel-controlled capital blew early Tuesday in a series of thunderous blasts that spread flames for blocks and rained red-hot shrapnel on the city.

The death toll was believed high, but reporters could confirm only two deaths. The Tigrean rebels who took over the government after seizing the capital a week ago blamed the destruction on sabotage.Another ammunition dump in the city exploded during last week's takeover, killing more than 500 people by the Ethiopian Red Cross' count.

Thousands of people fled the area, a neighborhood of small factories and dense low-income housing about a mile from central Revolutionary Square.

Residents said they heard what sounded like an exchange of gunfire before the blast, and a rescue official said there were reports a bomb or hand grenade was thrown at the dump.

By midmorning, 31 people had been hospitalized with injuries from the explosions.

Among those killed was a Nairobi-based television sound man for Camera Pix, John Mathai, a Kenyan, 34.

Correspondent Mohamed Amin, 47, was seriously injured while filming the explosions. Amin, Africa bureau chief for Visnews, won several awards for his 1984 coverage of the Ethiopian famine.

The first explosion shook residents out of their beds at 4:20 a.m. and was followed by a continuous series of smaller explosions before a second huge blast.

A huge cloud of acrid smoke rose from the scene and shrapnel streaked across the city from secondary explosions.

Three major international petroleum companies had storage facilities near the dump, and at least one caught fire as flames raced through neighborhoods of poor, flimsily constructed homes, shops and buildings.