Strongest tremor in decades rocks Albania, death toll rises to 22

Published 26.11.2019 08:41
Updated 27.11.2019 00:32
Emergency workers clear debris at a damaged building in Thumane, 34 kilometers (about 20 miles) northwest of capital Tirana, after an earthquake hit Albania, on November 26, 2019. (AFP Photo)
Emergency workers clear debris at a damaged building in Thumane, 34 kilometers (about 20 miles) northwest of capital Tirana, after an earthquake hit Albania, on November 26, 2019. (AFP Photo)

At least 20 people have died and 600 people have been injured after a major earthquake caused severe damage in Albania's capital, Tirana, and nearby areas with emergency teams arriving from Turkey and other countries to help out

Albanian rescuers searched rubble through the night looking for survivors trapped in buildings that toppled Tuesday in the strongest earthquake to hit the country in decades, with more than 20 dead and hundreds injured.

Teams of soldiers, police and emergency workers sifted through the debris of shredded apartment blocks and hotels in towns near Albania's northwest Adriatic coast, close to the epicenter of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that rattled the country before dawn.

By evening the toll was 22 dead, according to the defense ministry.

Most were pulled from wreckage in the coastal city of Durres and Thumane, a town north of the capital Tirana.

In neighboring Kurbin a man in his fifties died in the morning after jumping from his building in panic. Another perished in a car accident after the earthquake tore open parts of the road, the ministry said.

More than 40 people have also been retrieved alive in marathon rescue efforts that continued with headlamps and spotlights after the sun went down.

"The rescue teams will continue all night," defense ministry spokeswoman Albana Qehajaj told AFP.

"We must be careful because the night makes any operation more difficult," she added.

Earlier in Thumane, locals watching emergency workers comb over a collapsed building shouted the names of their loved ones still inside: "Mira!", "Ariela!", "Selvije!".

Dulejman Kolaveri, a man in his 50s in Thumane, told AFP he feared his 70-year-old mother and six-year-old niece were trapped inside the five-storey apartment, because they lived on the top floor.

"I don't know if they are dead or alive. I'm afraid of their fate... only God knows," he said with trembling hands.

There were also brief bursts of joy during the day as rescuers delicately extracted survivors.

One thin, middle-aged man covered in a film of grey dust was seen being carried out of the rubble on a stretcher in Thumane.

In Durres, onlookers cheered "Bravo!" as a team used ropes to rescue a young man from the wreckage of a toppled seaside hotel in a two-hour operation.

Seismologist Branko Dragicevic in Serbia told local media that the quake was felt by some 10 million people in Montenegro, Italy, North Macedonia, Greece and Bulgaria.

In Croatia, seismologists said the quake was mostly felt along the country's Adriatic Sea coast, waking up people, as reported by Associated Press (AP). In nearby Bosnia, another temblor with a preliminary magnitude of 5.4 struck southeast of the capital and rattled Sarajevo. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage in that earthquake.

Turkey sends assistance to Albania

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said that Turkey expresses condolences to "the relatives of those who lost their lives as well as to the people of Albania and wished a speedy recovery to the injured." It added that the country will send a search and rescue (SAR) team and an emergency medical team (EMT) to assist post-quake efforts.

"Turkey, as always, is by Albania's side in the face of this catastrophe. SAR and EMT units have been dispatched by our country and will fly to Tirana today on a military plane. Turkey is in full solidarity with the government and the brotherly people of Albania and ready to provide any assistance that may be needed," the statement added.

Meanwhile, the coastal city of Durres suffered the worst from the earthquake. Four bodies, including that of a young girl, were pulled from rubbles in the port city. A hotel where 20 Turks were staying also collapsed in the earthquake but they all were rescued from under the rubble.

Turkey's Ambassador to Tirana Murat Ahmet Yörük said all Turkish citizens were rescued with only minor injuries. "According to preliminary information, between 300 and 500 buildings collapsed. Some Turkish citizens were staying in a hotel in the port city of Durres. The hotel collapsed, but they have survived the disaster with minor injuries. One of them had a problem with the waist. So we sent an ambulance from Tirana," he said.

Yörük said Turkey was preparing to send disaster response teams to the country to help out. "We have got in touch with Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) after meeting with the authorities of Tirana. They are preparing to send a search and rescue team as well as a medical team during the day," Yörük told Anadolu Agency (AA).

A SAR team from AFAD, along with three vehicles and a National Medical Rescue Team (UMKE) from the Ministry of Health are traveling to Albania to support search and rescue operations after the 6.2 magnitude earthquake," AFAD said on its social media account.

Neighboring Montenegro also sent a search and rescue team. Two military aircraft with specialized emergency teams have also been sent from Romania.

The Balkans is an area prone to seismic activity and earthquakes are frequent. On Sept. 21, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in the country left over 130 people injured and more than 600 buildings damaged. According to U.S. Geological Survey data, over the past 20 years, the country has been hit by just one quake with a magnitude higher than six in 2003 when a magnitude 6.3 tremor hit its southern border with Greece.

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