Some 400 Albanian troops searched through rubble on Sunday for survivors of a huge munitions blast that razed an army base and killed at least six people.
More than 240 people were injured in the string of blasts at a base near the capital Tirana stocking obsolete munitions for destruction.
A Reuters reporter at the scene saw a ravaged landscape strewn with debris from blown-out buildings. The blast had created craters, some as long as 50 metres in diameter and 20 metres deep.
In the nearby village of Gerdec, several homes stood only as skeletons, the bricks around their concrete pillars shattered and the red roof tiles blown all over the hillhide. The shockwave uprooted shrubs and cut olive trees down to stumps.
"I was trapped on the mountain with my flock," said local shepherd Gani Gerdeci, trying to get back into the village. "I am looking for my four children".
Thousands of big and small artillery shells, some unexploded, littered the area. Chickens and dogs lay dead, struck by shrapnel. Three concrete bunkers, built by late Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, had been uprooted.
Six people have been confirmed dead from the string of blasts and over 240 were injured, half of them seriously, with burns, concussions, broken limbs, or cuts from flying glass and shrapnel.
The initial blasts were so powerful they were felt as tremors in the capital Tirana, some 20 km away and heard by a Reuters reporter in Skopje, capital of neighbouring Macedonia. Small cracking explosions were still going on 18 hours later.
The explosions began when workers were moving stocks of old Chinese and Soviet shells stored at the base, a central collection point for the arsenal amassed by the communist-era dictatorship.
Albania has been trying for years to dismantle the obsolete arsenal, set as one of the conditions for the country to join NATO. It hopes to get an invitation next month.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha said he believed Albania's bid for membership would not be affected by the accident.
"The stock of 100,000 tonnes of 40-50 years old ammunition is one of our most serious problems," Berisha said late on Saturday. "One thing is certain, Albania must get rid of this dangerous inheritance." (Reuters)
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