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Huge explosions rock Albanian arms depot

Latest update : 2008-03-16

At least five people died and a further 200 were injured on Saturday in explosions at a military arms depot outside the Albanian capital Tirana. Many fear the death toll could rise. (Report: M.Henbest)

At least five people were killed and 200  injured Saturday in a series of blasts that rocked an Albanian army munitions depot outside the capital, officials said.
"The fifth body was found at the scene of the incident," Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha's spokeswoman Juela Mecani told reporters.
Mecani said a total of 110 people had been at the depot at the time of the first explosion, which occured around noon (1100 GMT).
"According to some witnesses, there was a 10-minute break between the first and second blasts, so a number of them could have fled" the area, she said.
Earlier reports had said that three units, totalling some 60 soldiers, were deployed at the site when the explosion occurred.
A US company contracted by NATO is helping Albanian troops dispose of surplus or obsolete munitions at the depot.
According to Albanian Defence Minister Fatmir Mediu, some 100,000 tonnes of antiquated munitions from the communist era remain in the country, threatening the population.
Their destruction is one of the conditions Albania has to fulfil to gain membership to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
"The authorities are trying to identify all people present there" at the time of the first blast, Mecani said, adding that "the situation remained difficult as explosions continued."
Special army units with armoured vehicles, who have been at the site to rescue people working there, recovered four bodies in the afternoon.
Albanian Health Minister Nard Ndoka said that at least 200 people were hospitalised, of whom 12 were seriously injured, including a five-year old child.
The rescuers managed to find and save 25 inhabitans from surrounding villages who had hidden in a communist-era bunker, Mecani said.


Date created : 2008-03-16