The explosion of a plant in Albania on the 15th of March 2008 carved out three yawning craters, the deepest over 100 feet, and killed 26 people. Witnesses likened it and the powerful shock wave that followed to the detonation of a nuclear bomb. “It felt like you were flying,” said Razije Telhai, 48, who said she had been thrown 60 feet by the force of the blast. Albanians remained to ask how the country, which was invited to join the NATO alliance in April 2008, could have allowed such a dangerous plant to operate right off a major highway, a short drive from the capital’s main airport, which was damaged by the shock wave.

The explosion, which happened at a munitions demolition depot in the village of Gerdec – only ten kilometres outside the capital Tirana, killed 26 people, injured more than 300 and left over 3,000 homeless. Estimates published by the government say the explosion caused more than 20 million euros in damages to the surrounding area. According to the emergency services, 400 houses were totally destroyed, 188 were severely damaged, 200 sustained major damage and 1,600 others were slightly damaged.

The explosions began after workers moved stocks of old Chinese and Soviet shells stored at the base, once a central collection point for the arsenal amassed by the communist-era dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. Albania had been trying for years to dismantle the obsolete arsenal, which was one of the conditions for the country’s successful entry into NATO.