A massive explosion at an Albanian army ammunition dump near Tirana today killed at least four people and injured 215, including many children, authorities said.
The initial blast at the depot at Gerdec village, about six miles north of the capital, Tirana, set off a series of explosions, and ammunition continued to detonate into the night.
The blast damaged houses more than a mile away and prompted a brief suspension of flights at Tirana’s international airport, which was slightly damaged.
Houses more than a mile away were damaged by the blast.
Footage from Albanian television showed a massive ball of fire shooting up from the site, while shrapnel and shell fragments rained down on homes and vehicles.
The continuing explosions hampered rescue efforts, and authorities were unable to get to the site of the main blast.
The explosion damaged a major electricity transmission point, leaving the area without power and creating further difficulties for rescuers, authorities said.
“The most dangerous area, where it is foreseen there will be dead, is the explosion site where none has been able to go yet,” said Interior Minister Bujar Nishani. He said authorities evacuated the surrounding area and explosives experts would clear the area of remaining ammunition in the next few days.
Police said the cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, but terrorism was not suspected.
Health Minister Nard Ndoka said 215 people had been injured, including many children, and that 12 of the injured were in serious condition.
The health minister said Albania had received offers of assistance from Italy, Greece, Switzerland and many other countries to treat the injured.
The army depot is used as a location to destroy excess ammunition.
Albania has some 100,000 tons of excess ammunition stored in former army depots across the country, according to Defence Minister Fatmir Mediu.
Nato countries, and particularly the United States, Canada and Norway, have been helping with funding for Albania to destroy excess ammunition and obsolete weaponry.
“The problem of ammunition in Albania is one of the gravest, and a continuous threat,” said Prime Minister Sali Berisha. “There is a colossal, a crazy amount of them since 1945 until now.”
He said he did not exclude human error in today’s blast, but added that the ammunition could have exploded spontaneously because of its age.
The Prime Minister visited the victims in hospital.
Albin Mecaj, 22, who works at the depot, said about 80 people had been working on destroying ammunition at the time of the explosion.
Mecaj, who was badly burnt in the blast, said about 120 people usually work at the depot.
Accidents have occurred at ammunition dumps in Albania in the past, although today’s was by far the worst. Three years ago explosions at army weapon depots in southern Albania killed an army officer and injured four others