|A relative comforted a wounded woman as she was evacuated yesterday by an Albanian army officer from the site of powerful explosions that occurred in Gerdec village Saturday. (Visar Kryeziu/Associated Press)|
9 still missing a day after Albania explosions
Rescuers search for survivors near weapons depot
TIRANA, Albania - Rescue teams worked into the night yesterday to try to locate nine people still missing a day after a chain of massive explosions flattened an Albanian ammunition dump and hundreds of nearby houses, killing at least nine and injuring nearly 300.
Igli Hasani, Defense Ministry spokesman, said the operation would continue "for as long as needed," but rescuers, assisted by US military explosives specialists, were hampered by large quantities of unexploded artillery shells.
"The search operation will continue into the night with limited groups of experts," he said.
Saturday's explosions in the village of Gerdec, about 6 miles north of Tirana, scattered shells over 2,500 acres, Hasani said.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha said the explosions were an accident, blasts triggered during work to destroy excess ammunition stockpiled during Albania's Communist past.
Nine bodies have been found. Another nine workers and villagers remained missing yesterday, authorities said. Health Minister Nard Ndoka said 298 people were injured, including children, and more than 50 remained hospitalized. Eight of the injured are in serious condition and will be transported to Italy for treatment.
Rescuers found three charred bodies in the army depot and the body of a woman in a nearby house yesterday.
The chain of explosions started Saturday and continued for 14 hours until early yesterday.
Berisha said the blast destroyed more than 300 houses in the neighboring village, while a further 2,000 homes and businesses were damaged. Footage showed a ball of fire shooting up from the site, with shrapnel and shell fragments raining down on homes and cars.
Gerdec was declared an emergency zone, and Berisha promised relief for villagers who lost their homes.
"As soon as the damage is fully assessed, the government will commit all its resources to quickly react and rebuild the totally destroyed zone," he said.
Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu said villagers might have to stay away from their homes for several days. "We have isolated the area but our fear is that the ammunition could be reactivated because we don't know how much has exploded," he told the Associated Press Television News. "The other fear is that the ground is so hot that something could be suddenly reactivated. So that's why all the villages around have been evacuated so we can see clearly in the next few hours and days what exactly the situation there is."
A company had been subcontracted to destroy excess ammunition, Berisha said. In the past year, about 6,000 to 7,000 tons of ammunition have been destroyed.