Albanian death toll rises to nine

March 16, 2008 at 11:54 AM

TIRANA, Albania, March 16 (UPI) -- The death toll from a series of explosions at an Albanian army depot rose to nine Sunday as crews searched for survivors, officials said.

Albanian Deputy Interior Minister Gent Strazimiri told CNN that five bodies were initially found after Saturday's explosion and four additional bodies were located during Sunday's search.

The most recent fatality was found at a local home that was destroyed by the blast, Strazimiri added.

A total of 243 people were reportedly injured in the series of blasts that began Saturday and continued overnight at the depot near Tirana.

A cause for the explosion has yet to be determined, but Albanian officials suspect it was not intentional.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha said on his Web site that the explosions started while workers were dismantling a stockpile of obsolete arms, some of which were acquired during the country's communist years.

"The problem of ammunition in Albania is one of the gravest, and a continuous threat. There is a colossal, crazy amount of it dating back to 1945," Berisha said.

A large area around the blast reportedly was damaged, including Tirana's international airport and several homes. About 4,000 residents were evacuated from nearby villages.

The United States, Italy, Greece, Macedonia, Turkey and Kosovo have offered medical aid, the BBC reported.

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