In Gerdec, Albania, a series of explosions at an old munitions depot has killed at least five people (estimates range as high as 160, but the total is sure to be considerably larger than reported so far) and injured over 200. The blasts were so powerful that they were heard over 200 kilometers away, in Skopje, Macedonia.
From the CBC:
The initial blast at the depot at Gerdec village, about 10 kilometres north of the capital, Tirana, set off a series of explosions, and ammunition continued to detonate for hours…Houses more than a kilometre away from the dump were damaged by the blast…Police said the cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, but terrorism was not suspected…
Albania has some 100,000 tonnes of excess ammunition stored in former army depots across the country, according to Defence Minister Fatmir Mediu.
At the site were an international team of 110 munitions experts, including some American civilian contractors, who were dismantling the old army depot in accordance with requirements for Albania’s expected entry into NATO next month. Government officials have received offers of assistance from Italy, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, the United States, and France.
From the Guardian:
People suffering with burns, concussions and broken limbs were rushed to local hospitals following the blasts, believed to have begun while teams were dismantling munitions at a store base. Many of the injuries were a result of flying glass or shrapnel.
“We do not know the exact number, but we fear the worst for the three teams, each of 21 people, working there at the time,” said Juela Mecani, spokeswoman for the country’s prime minister, Sali Berisha. “Several were US citizens.”
A spokesman for the Albanian interior ministry, Avni Neza, said army and police forces were trying to reach the area in armoured cars. “Helicopters have not yet managed to land because the explosions continue,” he said.
From Reuters, some additional background on how the explosions occurred:
The explosions began as Albanian and U.S. teams were moving stocks of World War Two-era bombs, bullets and shells stored at the base, a central collection point for the arsenal amassed by Albania’s Stalinist-era dictatorship.
Albania hopes to be invited to join NATO next month.
Many were hurt as enormous shockwaves hit nearby villages and cars passing by on the adjacent highway. A company involved in destroying the munitions said there were 3,000 tonnes of explosive material stocked at the site…
…the first explosion was not that big, allowing many of the estimated 110 workers on the site to get out. “Ten minutes passed before the biggest blast and many workers used this time to flee,” a press statement said.
Eight hours later, the fires continue to burn and live ammunition now lying scattered over the site, some of it dating back to the Second World War, continues to present the very real threat of more deadly explosions.
From CNN, more background on the situation at the depot:
The army depot is used as a site for ammunition destruction.
Albania has some 100,000 tons of excess ammunition stored in former army depots across the country, according to Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu. He has said the country needs at least $77.8 million to destroy them.
“The problem of ammunition in Albania is one of the gravest, and a continuous threat,” Berisha said. “There is a colossal, a crazy amount of them since 1945 until now.”
He said he did not exclude human error in Saturday’s blast, but added that the ammunition could have exploded spontaneously because of its age.