AP, March 15, 2008 -- A massive explosion at an Albanian army ammunition dump near Tirana on Saturday killed at least five people and injured about 200, including many children. The prime minister said he feared there could be many dead.
The initial blast at the depot at Gerdec village, about 10 kilometers (six miles) north of the capital, Tirana, set off a series of explosions, and ammunition continued to detonate for hours. Albanian state television reported that the number of injured had increased to about 200 by Saturday evening. Health Minister Nard Ndoka said many children were among those hurt.
Police said the cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, but terrorism was not suspected.
The office of Prime Minister Sali Berisha said five people had been found dead near the site of the explosion.
Berisha's office issued a statement quoting witnesses as saying that 110 people had been working at the dump at the time of the explosion. It said they reported a delay of about 10 minutes between the initial blast and the explosions that followed, and that many of the workers had managed to run away.
The blast was heard more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) away, and people fled from nearby villages. Flights at nearby Mother Teresa Tirana International Airport were suspended for at least 30 minutes.
Interior Minister Bujar Nishani said authorities evacuated the surrounding area and explosives experts would clear it of any remaining ammunition.
Houses in the area were searched and no bodies were found there, Nishani said.
Houses in the area were searched and no bodies were found there, Nishani said.
"The most dangerous area, where it is foreseen there will be dead, is the explosion site where no one has been able to go yet," said Nishani, adding that army and police forces were some 50 meters from the site.
Berisha said that "it seems the number of the dead is considerable," but that information was still incomplete.
The prime minister, a cardiologist, visited victims in hospitals in Tirana and said at least four of those injured were in serious condition. He said most of the injured were suffering from burns and psychological shock.
The army depot is used as a sit to destroy ammunition. (***)
Those 5 reported dead is misleading; those are bodies found in the surrounding villages, they have not yet uncovered the bodies of workers near the depot.
We could be looking at hundreds of people dead by the time this is over.
God Bless Albania!
TIRANA, Albania (AFP)--Albanian authorities haven't ruled out foul play in an explosion at an army munitions depot which killed at least nine and left more than 200 injured, the country's public prosecutor said Monday.
A series of blasts at the communist-era armory destroyed 318 houses nearby and damaged a further 2,000 on Saturday, in what the Albanian President Bamir Topi likened to "a nuclear blast...without the radioactivity."
"We are not ruling out a criminal act," prosecutor Ina Rama said. "But we are following several lines of inquiry."
Authorities will also look at the security measures put in place by the firm in charge of carrying out the dismantling of the munitions, Southern Ammunition Co., a U.S. contractor. More than 30 people who could provide information about the blast have already been interviewed, Rama said.
Topi said the first results of preliminary inquiries indicated the team had chosen the wrong site to dismantle the arms.
Hundreds of workers have been dismantling the munitions at various sites near Rinas, close to both the airport and a motorway, 12 kilometers north of the capital, Tirana.
Human rights groups and witnesses have said most of the workers are badly-paid women, without training or employment contracts. Paid on the spot, they drafted in members of their families to help with the work, including children who worked at the factory on Saturdays and Sundays.
Witnesses allege the factory was in a densely-populated urban area, with little security and terrible working conditions.
A third day of rescue work to look for those still missing and safeguard the area began Monday, after work stopped overnight for fear of triggering further unexploded shells in the darkness.
A thousand soldiers and 500 police had been involved in the rescue operation over the weekend, with army helicopters circling overhead. Italy and Austria have offered medical help.
Destroying the old munitions is one of the conditions Albania must fulfill to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu has said there still about 100,000 metric tons of antiquated munitions in the country posing a threat to the population.
Along with Croatia and Macedonia, Albania hopes to be invited to join NATO at a summit in Bucharest early next month.
2008-03-17 15:31:08 -
TIRANA, Albania (AP) - The Albanian government says Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu has resigned after a weapons depot blast killed at least 11 people and injured nearly 300.
A spokesman for the prime minister's office, Grid Rroji, has told The Associated Press that Mediu has resigned and is due to make an announcement later Monday.
Mediu, 41, is the leader of the Republican Party, which is part of Prime Minister Sali Berisha's governing conservative coalition.
In the course of last year, Minister of Defense, Fatmir Mediu has lobbied American company â€œSouthern Ammunition Companyâ€ to win with direct procurement the right of dismantling ammunition by mechanic dismantling method, rather than burning, as carried out in our country in the previous efforts.
In the beginning of last year, Minister Fatmir Mediu has firstly presented to Council of Ministers a report, backing the approval of a government decision, which give this company the right to bid free this project, signed by premier. According report of Mediu, the company, which is responsible for the Gerdec tragedy, was the only company to meet the technical criteria for such operation. But, Prime Minister Sali Berisha stood up this proposal and the decision was not approved at government meeting. Premier Berisha urged him to bring about another argument for this stand. Later on, Mediu presents another principle relation, avoiding the name of the company, using legal arguments that government authorizes Ministry of Defense, i.e. Mr. Mediu, to select a contractor on this issue.
Following the act, the government approves the decision no 3887, date 14.3.2007.
The first document of Mediu consists of evaluations for SAC Company. â€œRecently, â€œSouthern Ammunition Companyâ€, has presented to Ministry of Defense an offer for dismantling, demilitarization of small caliber munitions through splitting mechanical method, without an impact for the environment, by installing its machineries, as well as profiting from by-products of this dismantling. Likewise, due to this process, this company would transfer to state budget an amount of money. This company is a legal American company, registered in Loris, South Carolina and licensed by State Department and Defense Department in the field of trade exchange of fire weapons and other relating activities.
As mentioned before, we carry out dismantling of small caliber munitions through burning method from NAMSA agency, whose by-products are not profitable for state budget. In this case, this possibility exists due to a change in method use for the dismantling.
The offer of Southern Ammunition Company envisages the use of mechanic method with special machineries that make profit of the by-products, such as shell casings, bullets, gun-powder, etc that could have other uses. The investments will be carried out by the companyâ€, says the report.
In the second document, after making the changes required by the premier, Mediu said there should be a decision for a direct procurement as long as Council of Ministers has such power.
â€œThe aforesaid goods, if can not be used or traded, should be subject of dismantling procedure, based on law no.6942, date 25.10.1984, â€œOn administration, preservation, documentation and circulation of material and monetary valueâ€ changed, and its by-acts.
Law 8671, date 26.10.2000, in article 14 item 7, defines that: Council of Ministers determines deadlines of services and use technical weapons and equipments of armed forces, rules for their treatment, following the removal of arms from use heqjes nga armatimi dhe pÃ«rdorimi. The procedures and responsibilities are determined by decision of Council of Ministers.
Based on this article, the Council of Ministers defines the procedures and responsibilities of treating obsolete munitions.
The project envisages the payment of incomes to state budgetâ€, says the report of Mediu.
But, the highly praised company by Mediu, has raised a base in one of the most populated area in Tirana, employing unqualified persons from the surrounding villages, in total lack of security conditions.
But, other scandals accompany the government decision, encouraged by Mediu. Sub-contractor of the American company is the Albanian company â€œAlbakerâ€, owned by Mihal Delijorgji, chosen by avoiding all the legal criteria. Due to the high risk, the sub-contracting company should have been subject of bid process. The newspaper also has uncontestable fact proving that in the course of last year these two companies has illegally sold lead by-products at lower price, which witnesses undeclared profits by their business, which resulted lethal.
Security, inhabitants had several times written Ministry of Defense
The security conditions at the Gerdec arms dump were not observed. One of the injured, a worker at the munitions dump said that the fire was caused by the non-observation of the technical conditions in the dump. According to him, the tragedy was caused by several gun-powder cases, received by the weapons placed in the arms dump yard. â€œAs far as I noticed, the fire was caused by the car which was being loaded in the yard. The car turned the wheels, and there might have been gun-powder underneath the wheels, later on I saw the cases on fire. This was the cause of the first explosion. The fire swallowed up the main depots, and caused the tragedyâ€, the injured said.
In fact, the inhabitants of this area feared the explosions in the arms dump. The inhabitants have complained to the local authorities, that forwarded the complaints to Ministry of Defense, but no measures were ever taken. At the mean time, there re many mysteries in this issue. Who authorized arms dismantling nearby a inhabited area, 20 km from the capital, where such process could have been carried out in many other places, without causing such tragedies. On the other side, who was supervising the security of such delicate process?
Letter to NATO Secretary General
Why should be become NATO members as soon as possible?
Dear NATO Secretary General, Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer,
In the last milestone of road to NATO, Albanian army copied yesterday with an unprecedented tragedy in the history of our country. Some thousand tons of one hundred thousand old Chinese, Russian and Yugoslavian munitions that were sleeping in overcrowded depots of the former-Stalinist army of our country caused yesterday carnage just 20 km away from Tirana center. Such tragedies are unrepeatable and the image they produce of our country and army is not the real image of our army. Actually, we have a professional army that has left the past behind, a reformed army and considerably improved. But, we still have a dangerous potential from obsolete military materials which can be reformed as quickly as the army structures. Thus, only a visionary policy can save us from it, which can not be found among us. Among us there is either former-army officer of communist era that dream of Warsaw Treaty, or flying ministers such as Fatmir Mediu that tells about these tragedies as action films.
The Albanian politics is totally reconciled and is more united than ever in the idea of receiving a NATO invitation at the Bucharest summit. Even yesterday, the leader of majority and opposition leader were side-to-side in this tragedy. This means that none can use this national tragedy for political credo. But, this solidarity can not save us from evil. It can only save us from the deepening of bad image in the world. But, what we urgently need is the certainty that such tragedies would not happen tomorrow. I want to be sincere, I do not have any faith in my minister, Fatmir Mediu, and his vision for Albanian army, that such tragedies wonâ€™t repeat. One year ago, Minister Mediu has directly procured an American company for technical dismantling of these munitions, reasoning that it has a high technology and rare professionalism. In fact, what has happened, witnesses that we have to do with full irresponsibility of the subcontracted company that has employed unqualified persons for this task. If procurement is made on special abilities of a company, we can not leave the fate of our families in the hand of irresponsible villagers for the risk they produce. It was painful to see that women had taken with them at work their children, and were telling the causes of the tragedy. Such barbarian scenes witness an unexampled administrative irresponsibility to prevent risks and create a secure society from the obsolete risks of Stalinist army.
For these reasons, Mr. Secretary General, we should not only receive an invitation at the Bucharest summit, out of any procedures, if possible, the NATO membership should be accelerated. In such conditions, a bunkered-country by the communist era army, we do not have any chance to live in peace, if you do not take care of our security. We can not be safe citizens, if NATO does not take us under its protection, even by force. We are condemned to suffer the insanity of our communist era, and let us say it, we do not have any chance to produce a new mechanism to demilitarize all the potential of that army. Naturally, we have a democratic government and democratic society. Surely, we are a Western-oriented country, but we do not have the capacities to manage the fate that history put in our doors , Our country is seriously at risk by such irresponsibility and NATO is the only salvation that make us feel safe in our homes.
Since, yesterday, I can not sleep secured in my house in Tirana. And, if I go back to my native country in the south, I still have in front of my house tens of army depots that can explode at any moment if the pastor set on fire the pastures in summer. The mass destruction arms depots are spread all over Albania , as a lethal cancer, and we can not face this battle. Even though we are not a villain state, we are that incapable to cause the same damage.
I do not feel at ease by the pledge of premier that there will be an investigation on Gerdec event. There is no need for investigation, I know what has happened. His minister has allowed a dismantling process to be carried out in the most populated area that connects two of its biggest cities by unqualified people. The explanation that the gun-powder might have set off as a consequence of turn of wheels, it is more horrible. I do not expect the resignation of our Minister Fatmir Mediu, even though he deserves going to jail. I do not expect the government to reflect and produce new securities for all Albanian citizens. It wants to, but it can not do it. Politically, it is a hostage of such ministers as Mediu, who do not think even when they think, speak or raise their hand. They only think of how can be part of the government, at any cost for their country.
Thus, Mr. Secretary General, you should make a great service to out nation, a service that provides security to a society, which is the most pro western society in the region. Make us NATO members as soon as possible and without any doubts. Do not be shocked by what you saw yesterday on TV. Worse tragedies can happen, if you leave us out for these reasons. Sent us the NATO invitation and make us members as soon as possible. Do not ask about the fate of Fatmir Mediu and his colleagues in the government, because we do not depend on them. As you saw yesterday, it is very difficult to feel safe under his rule in this country. NATO is a great solution for us, a solution
Albania Ammunition Depot Explosion OCHA Situation Report No.1
This situation report is based on information received from The United Nations Office of the Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Albania
- Some 4,000 residents living in the area were evacuated and offered shelter in state-owned resorts near Durres port.
- The Minister of Defence declared the zone a Disaster Area and advised that residents would not be allowed to return until the area is deemed safe.
- An UNDAC Team deployment is being considered.
1. On Saturday 15 March 2008, at approximately 12.30 noon, a serious explosion occurred at a military ammunition depot in Gerdec, near Vore village (14 kilometres from Tirana).
2. The accident occurred during an ongoing programme to destroy old military ordnance.
3. Vehicles traveling on the Tirana-Durres highway (5km) had windscreens and side windows blown out. Many secondary explosions continued
through the night. The Durres-Tirana highway was closed temporarily and reopened the next morning. The blast also shattered windows of the terminal building at the country's only International airport, and flights were temporarily suspended resuming when it was safe.
4. Thousands of artillery shells, mortar shells, grenades, and small arms ammunition litter the area. Some of the unexploded ordnance, dating from World War II, was scattered up to a 5km radius from the explosion site. There is a stock of some 130,000 tonnes of 40-50 years old ammunition in dumps around the country. Destroying the ammunition has been identified as a serious problem
5. The area of Vore village and the surrounding area support approximately 10,000 residents. The area is declared a 'disaster area' by the military. Some 4,000 residents living in the area were evacuated and offered shelter in state-owned resorts near Durres port.
6. A preliminary assessment by the Government of Albania (GoA) has identified the following damage in the table below. Some of these buildings are schools and small family businesses.
- Destroyed: 313 homes
- Severely damaged: 380 buildings
- Partially Damaged: 1690 buildings
7. At this stage the military have not been able to access all the areas so it is expected that the death toll will rise. Doctors working in the area claim that they had seen many bodies in the area. Latest casualty figures from GoA are as follows:
- Deaths: 18
- Seriously injured: Approx. 40
- Injured: Over 350
8. During a Press Conference in the evening of Saturday (15 March), Prime Minister Sali Berisha released information that approximately 121 people were at the depot at the time of the explosion, adding that many of them may have found refuge in the period between the first two large explosions.
9. Rescuers at the site recovered five bodies in the afternoon, rescued inhabitants who were sheltering in the hills surrounding the explosion site. The search was suspended at night fall, because of the continuing explosions and lack of visibility.
10. In Tirana, as well as other cities across the country, hundreds of people queued to donate blood for the victims following an appeal by the authorities. Some 300 units of blood were also transported by a KFOR helicopter from Kosovo on Saturday night (15 March).
11. A number of countries, including Italy, Turkey, FYROM, Montenegro, Croatia, Switzerland and Germany also offered their assistance. Some of the severely injured people were evacuated to Greece and Italy for specialist treatment.
12. Many representatives of foreign Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations in Albania, as well as the representation from the European Union, have expressed their support to the Albanian government during this time of crisis.
13. The UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Ms. Gülden Türköz-Cosslett, called an extraordinary meeting with UN Representatives and offered UN assistance to the Government where feasible.
14. An UNDAC Team has been requested to assist the Government of Albania (GoA) in coordinating and preparing an assessment of needs.
15. The World Bank is seeking to provide more long-term assistance to the GoA.
19. As a result of aid offered from neighbouring countries and international organization, some of the immediate needs are being fulfilled. Medium or longer term assistance includes:
- Search dogs and equipment teams: searching and excavating bodies
- Clearance teams: decontaminating the area from unexploded ordnance (UXOs).
- Shelter: the evacuated population and those who will not be able to return to their homes in the immediate future
- Specialized teams: assessment of possible contamination of the area, and to assess the risk of possible epidemic decease from water pollution or dead animals
- An emergency response team and capacity support to the Albanian Red Cross
- Emergency Contingency stocks
- Civil engineering teams: carry out assessments of the remaining buildings in the area; make recommendations for rehabilitation or demolition
- Rehabilitation of partially damaged public or private buildings and rehabilitation of the public infrastructure of the area.
20. Longer term assistance needed, and expressed by government officials, is the safe destruction of over 100,000 tones of obsolete ammunition (dating back to 1945) located in military depots throughout the country.
This was probably planned by Montenegrin government.
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