Rescuers search for survivors after deadly blast at Albanian ammunition dump

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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TIRANA, Albania - Rescue teams worked into the night Sunday 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.
Defence Ministry spokesman Igli Hasani said the operation would continue ''for as long as needed,'' but rescuers - assisted by U.S. military explosives experts - 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 10 kilometres north of Tirana, scattered shells over an area of more than 1,000 hectares, 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 Sunday, 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 are to 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 Sunday.
The chain of explosions started Saturday and continued for 14 hours until early Sunday.
Berisha said the blast destroyed more than 300 houses in the neighbouring 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.

Geographic location: TIRANA, Albania, U.S. Italy

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