Series of explosions at Albanian arms depot leaves at least 155 dead or injured

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

A series of explosions have hit an Albanian arms depot near Tirana, leaving at least 155 people injured. Five are reported to be in comas. Four are known as dead.

Juela Mecani, spokesperson for Albamian PM Sali Berisha, said to Reuters "We do not know the exact number (of casualties) but we fear the worst for the three teams, each of 21 people, working there at the time. Several were U.S. citizens." The three teams referred to were dismantling obsolete munitions stored there, as part of a programme to remove Stalinist era arms and modernize the military in order to qualify for an invitation to join NATO next month.

Injured people have been rushed to hospitals amid ongoing explosions, which Interior Ministry spokesman Avni Neza says have prevented helicopters landing in the area. The wounded are suffering from burns, concussion, broken limbs and shrapnel injuries. Meanwhile, Neza says police and army units are attempting to reach the area in armored cars. Albanian health minister Nard Ndoka said that the 155 known to be hospitalized so far had to make their way to nearby villages as the ongoing explosions had also prevented road ambulances reaching the scene. Explosions have been ongoing at least two hours.

Tirana Airport spokesman Arlinda Causholli said glass windows and doors at the airport, a few kilometers from the site, were shattered by the initial series of explosions. "We evacuated passengers from the affected area and suspended flights for around 30 minutes," he said.

A Reuters cameraman in the area described the scene. "Terrified people are leaving the area on foot along the highway, women and children... Cars with broken windows have been abandoned on the highway." Local media reports Tirana residents rushing to donate blood to help with the emergency.

Explosions were felt in Tirana and in Durres, 20km (12 miles) from the base. In the nearby village of Gerdec, some residents fled to the hills, while others sought shelter in concrete bunkers built by late Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha. The initial blast was heard 150km away in Macedonia and Serbia


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