A huge explosion inside Kosovo's second-biggest power plant has killed at least two people and damaged nearby houses, officials have said.

The 40-year-old Kosovo A plant was shut down following Friday's blast that was heard in the capital, Pristina, about 10km away.

The explosion threatened electricity supplies in a country already plagued by blackouts. Power imports were increased to
cover demand.

"We have found two bodies," Edmond Nulleshi, a manager at the Kosovo's Energy Corporation (KEK), told Reuters news agency.

A black plume of smoke could be seen rising from the coal-fired plant, as ambulances ferried the injured to hospitals. Police sealed off the area, fearing more explosions could follow.

"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.

Power shortages

A government official told the Associated Press that authorities believe the blast was caused during a botched replacement of hydrogen canisters used for cooling generators.

The Kosovo A plant has a capacity of 449 mega watt. It produces more than 30 percent of electricity in Kosovo.

The facility is considered one of Europe's worst polluters, and is expected to be closed by 2017.

Kosovo Energy Distribution and Supply Company KEDS said Kosovo had to import 250 megawatt-hours of power to make up for shortages after the blast struck the plant.

Kosovo's prime minister, Hashim Thaci, visited the site of the explosion, which came just days before the country's general election.

In the wake of the accident, Kosovo's main political parties suspended campaigning for the poll.

Source: Agencies