Eight killed in Albania munitions blast

March 16th, 2008 - 6:37 pm ICT by admin  

Tirana (Albania), March 16 (DPA) The Albanian authorities have confirmed eight casualties from a military munitions depot explosion, but feared that many more may have been killed in a series of explosions. Some 250 people were wounded in Saturday’s blast with the worst injured airlifted to hospitals in Italy and Greece. Hundreds in Albania and in neighbouring Kosovo responded to appeals for blood donations to help the injured.

The fate of hundreds of civilians and depot employees within the four-km perimeter of the base remained unaccounted for.

“The search and rescue operation is going on. We still hold a great number of people unaccounted for at the site and we are doing our utmost to find them,” Prime Minister Sali Berisha told reporters at the Tirana military hospital.

Gerdec, 14 km from the capital Tirana, appeared deserted Sunday. Police and firefighters were conducting door-to-door searches following overnight reports of looting.

The Gerdec compound comprised four depots, one of which was devastated by the blast, heard 200 km away and registered by European seismographs.

Ordnance, including heavy artillery shells, had been stored there since World War II and slated for dismantling.

The cleanup of thousands of tons of Communist-era munitions is part of the programme Albania needs to implement on its way to NATO membership.

Unexploded ordnance has been found as far away as five km from the blast site, reports said.

A US company had been commissioned to clean out the ordnance. It reportedly sub-contracted an Albanian firm. Earlier reports of possible US casualties in Gerdec had been denied.

The Pentagon said Saturday night that it was not aware of any US citizens being at the site. The US embassy in Tirana has not commented so far.

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