A massive explosion Saturday at an Albanian army ammunition dump killed at least five people and injured 243, including many children, authorities said.
Video from Albanian television showed a massive ball of fire shooting up from the site in the village of Gerdec, about six miles north of the capital, Tirana.
The blast was heard as far as the Macedonian capital, Skopje, about 120 miles away, and it prompted a brief suspension of flights at Tirana’s nearby international airport, which was slightly damaged.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha said during a late-night news conference that the death toll stood at five, but that the number probably would increase.
He said 243 people had been officially reported injured. By Saturday night, 142 remained hospitalized, 12 in serious condition.
Health Minister Nard Ndoka said earlier that many of the injured were children.
Authorities used armored personnel carriers to evacuate 4,000 people from three villages and the surrounding area, Berisha said.
The explosion also damaged a major electricity transmission point, leaving the area without power, authorities said.
The army depot is used as a location to destroy excess ammunition. Albania has about 100,000 tons of excess ammunition stored in former army depots across the country, Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu said.
The work was being carried out by an Albanian company that had been subcontracted by a U.S. company based in South Carolina, Berisha said, adding that there had been no foreigners in the area.
Berisha said he did not exclude the possibility that human error was to blame, but the ammunition could have exploded spontaneously because of its age.