European edition, Tuesday, July 24, 2007

NAPLES, Italy — An explosion at an Italian fireworks factory Saturday afternoon rocked portions of the U.S. Navy housing base at Gricignano, prompting officials to temporarily evacuate the Navy Exchange and the commissary, U.S. Navy officials said.

The blast, which took place around 5 p.m., shook loose an aisle sign at the base commissary, causing slight damage to the ceiling.

Shoppers were evacuated from the complex for about 45 minutes while the fire department inspected the building to make sure there was no structural damage, an NEX manager said.

One man, thought to be a 30- to 35-year-old Bulgarian, is in critical, life-threatening condition at a Italian hospital, said an official with the Italian carabinieri military police, which is leading the investigation. Officials don’t know if the man was working at the fireworks factory or was a passer-by, the Italian official said.

Several fireworks factories are near the U.S. Navy support site. Saturday’s explosion took place in a factory several kilometers from the base’s perimeter fence line, the carabinieri official said.

The cause of the explosion is under investigation, he said. The explosion also damaged houses in the area.

Italian officials asked that base hospital personnel be ready to help, but their services were not needed, said Lt. Cmdr. Wendy Snyder, Navy Region Europe spokeswoman.

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