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Gharb explosion: Search ends as fourth victim is found

Updated 11.45 a.m. - The search on the site of the Gharb fireworks factory explosion ended at about 11.30 a.m. today after the remains of the fourth victim were found. The other three victims were found yesterday.

Meanwhile Magistrate Josette Demicoli held an inquiry on the site this morning, while people familiar with the factory were questioned at Victoria police station by explosives experts.

It is understood that they were questioned on the layout of the factory, work practices and materials used.

Bryan PortelliBryan Portelli
Mario GauciMario Gauci

Yesterday’s explosion flattened three rooms which were located close to each other. It also demolished the roof of a room used to store some materials, but the main fireworks store, located 40 metres away, survived intact, although its door was blown in. 

Rescue dogs were used in the search and a mechanical shovel was brought in late yesterday to move concrete slabs. 

Army experts have remained on site to remove unexploded petards and make the area safe.

Meanwhile, Nadur Council said that out of respect for one of the victims, who is from Nadur, it had cancelled all activities due this week in connection with Council Week. A blood donation drive will however still be held.

The factory blew up at 2.45 p.m. scattering boulders over a wide area and destroying four cars parked nearby. Another explosion took place half an hour later, slightly injuring a number of rescuers.

The dead are factory owner Gorg Gatt and Peppi Cini, both of Fontana, Mario Gauci, of Munxar - who was injured in another explosion a few years ago - and Bryan Portelli, from Nadur, the youngest of them at 23.

Mr Portelli, a nurse, had called his best friend at about 12.30pm and had arranged to call later to plan their evening out with some friends. His Facebook page was inundated with messages of condolence, many commenting on what a good and professional nurse he was.

The men had been working on aerial fireworks for a secondary feast of San Kurunatu at Nadur and the feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated in Qala. The factory also produces fireworks for the Gharb feast. 

The relatives of the factory owner were also distraught, although they were heard commenting that he had died in the place he loved most and working on fireworks, his favourite pastime. Mr Cini’s relatives said he was obsessed with fireworks, despite their pleas for him to spend more time with them rather than risk his life manufacturing pyrotechnic devices.

A number of people, including many fireworks enthusiasts and relatives of the victims, returned to the site this morning to continue to watch proceedings. They were kept a safe distance away as  bomb disposal experts also work to render the area safe. 

The Civil Protection Department and the AFM are being assisted by volunteers from the Gozo-based ERRC.

Meanwhile, conservation experts will today inspect the historic San Dimitri chapel, located a short distance from the blast site. The chapel was restored recently and a fair was held there a week ago. The chapel is not believed to have been damaged since the explosion took place at a lower level in the valley.

Yesterday's explosion took place a few metres from the site of an explosion in September two years ago which killed six enthusiasts in another fireworks factory.

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