Kosovo power plant blast kills three, many injured

PRISTINA (AFP) - At least three people were killed and many more were injured in a suspected gas explosion at a major power plant outside the Kosovo capital Pristina on Friday.

"Until now we have three confirmed dead and many injured," Mr Derat Rukiqi, the chairman of plant's management board told AFP.

The head of Pristina's emergency centre Basri Lenanji said 13 people had been taken there with injuries. Ambulances were seen speeding to and from the blast site, which was sealed off by police.

Mr Rukiqi said the blast - heard in Pristina 10km away - was believed to have been caused by gas. "The explosion was so strong that I thought it was an earthquake," an injured engineer with a bandaged head told local television from his hospital bed.

"The ceiling started to fall. Before I left the plant I noticed many wounded and much blood," he said.

An AFP photographer who managed to approach the plant two hours after the explosion said its walls were severely damaged.

The windows of about a dozen cars parked nearby had shattered from the impact of the blast, as had those of houses in the vicinity.

Thick black smoke billowed from the plant as firefighters and rescuers from a special emergency unit of Kosovo Security Force made their way in and out of the building.

The Kosovo A plant is the second largest power station in the country with a capacity of 449 MW. It produces more than 30 per cent of electricity in Kosovo.

The European Union has described the plant as the worst single source of pollution in Kosovo. It is expected to be closed by 2017.

A worker who happened to be outside the plant at the time of the blast said: "There was a huge fire that broke out after the explosion. Panic broke out. We started to run as no-one knew what was going on."

"The explosion broke my (entrance) door and all windows of my house," said a man living nearby the plant.

"We all ran out the house as we thought a bomb was thrown on it," he added.

Outgoing Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci came to the plant shortly after the blast occurred around 11am.

He denied rumours that new blasts could be expected.

"There is no reason to panic. Everything is under control. There is no reason to evacuate inhabitants" living around the plant, Mr Thaci told reporters.

"Only workers were evacuated. All special services needed to help were at the spot," he said.

In a show of solidarity with families of the victims, main political parties - notably Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and main opposition Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) - suspended election rallies planned ahead of Sunday's legislative polls.