WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 17, 2008) Aca,!" A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employee is helping Albanian officials identify humanitarian assistance needed following a series of deadly explosions Sunday near Tirana, the Albanian capital.

Diane Acurio, the CorpsAca,!a,,c program manager for Civil Military Emergency Preparedness, arrived in Albania shortly before the explosions occurred at an Army base on the outskirts of Tirana, injuring more than 240, killing at least nine and destroying more than 300 homes.

Acurio went to Albania to conduct a Consequence Management Crisis Response Survey as part of her job, but instead of the survey, she is actually helping officials at the Albanian Ministry of the Interior identify assistance needed following the accident.

Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs an absolute coincidence,Aca,!A? Acurio said by telephone. Aca,!A"We were here to do a survey Aca,!A| but weAca,!a,,cre able to assist the Albanians.Aca,!A?

She had just left the airport when the explosions occurred a few minutes past noon Sunday about 10 kilometers away at Gerdec military base in Vore, where old Communist-era munitions were being dismantled. Some of the munitions dated back to the 1940s, Acurio said, and eliminating them was a requirement that Albania had to accomplish before joining NATO. But something went wrong.

First a series of relatively small explosions took place, Acurio said, followed by what she described as a Aca,!A"mushroom cloud.Aca,!A?

Aca,!A"It was devastating,Aca,!A? Acurio said. Aca,!A"The range of the shrapnel covered huge areas.Aca,!A?

Aca,!A"They never had anything quite this devastating before,Aca,!A? she said about what the Albanian officials had to deal with. She added that infrastructure such as utility lines, roads and schools were destroyed by the blasts. Luckily, she said the smaller blasts allowed a number of people to escape the immediate area before the larger explosions.

Acurio went to the U.S. Embassy along with Jeff Lewis, a contractor for U.S. European Command who was going to assist with the crisis response survey. The two were asked to go to the Ministry of Interior, Civil Protection Office, to offer U.S. assistance and coordination on behalf of the ambassadorAca,!a,,cs staff in Albania.

At the Ministry of Interior, they were told that the explosion was 2.8 on the on the European scale. The Albanian Ministry of Defense had the lead at the blast site, but the Ministry of Interior had the lead for humanitarian, recovery and relief operations.

The explosions had caused a wave of concussion injuries, burns, and shrapnel over a large area including villages and homes. Electricity and water supply in the area was affected. Livestock was killed from the concussion wave.

Under bilateral agreements, a number of nations are providing assistance, to include Greece, Italy and Macedonia. NATOAca,!a,,cs Kosovo Force, or KFOR, will also assist, according to Acurio.

About 4,000 people were forced to evacuate the disaster area, Acurio said, adding that some of those left homeless are staying at the Albanian Defense Academy.

The type of assistance that NATO nations may provide include:

Aca,!Ac Search and Rescue teams with dogs
Aca,!Ac Forensics teams
Aca,!Ac Temporary shelter/tents
Aca,!Ac Assessment teams for decontamination of water supply due to animal corpses.
Aca,!Ac Teams to assess damage of structures
Aca,!Ac Vaccinations

Acurio said that along with short-term aid, she is also helping Albanian officials identify long-term needs such as repairs to infrastructure, utilities, roads and schools.

"It's to help them nine months down the road," Acurio said. She added that U.S. Embassy officials in Albania have "really been on the ball."