/Quake toll rises as Albania shocks continue

Quake toll rises as Albania shocks continue

Firefighters trying to rescue a survivor after an earthquake hit Thumane, Albania, 26 November 2019Image copyright

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Firefighters extracted this injured man from the rubble in Thumane

Rescuers are scrambling to find survivors under the rubble of buildings in Albania, where a strong earthquake has killed 26 people and injured 650.

The magnitude-6.4 tremor struck 34km (21 miles) north-west of the capital, Tirana, as people slept in their beds during the early hours of Tuesday.

Most of the deaths occurred in the coastal city of Durres and the town of Thumane, close to the epicentre.

Hundreds spent the night in tents, some slept in cars, as aftershocks continue.

Some 500 shocks have been felt since the initial quake hit at 03:54 local time (02:54 GMT) on Tuesday. Search teams have arrived from a number of European countries to help find survivors.

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People have been housed in a football stadium in Durres

More than 40 people have been pulled from the rubble and Prime Minister Edi Rama promised that rescuers would “continue to search patiently and thoroughly to the end”.

The government has declared Wednesday a day of mourning.

The European Commission said it had deployed rescue teams from Italy, Greece and Romania to help with the search efforts, while teams were also sent from Kosovo and Montenegro.

Tuesday’s earthquake is the strongest to hit Albania in decades.

How bad was the quake?

The 6.4 magnitude tremor was followed by powerful aftershocks.

In Thumane, a five-storey apartment building collapsed.

Dulejman Kolaveri, a man in his 50s, said he feared his 70-year-old mother and six-year-old niece were trapped inside because they had lived on the top floor.

“I don’t know if they are dead or alive,” he told AFP news agency, his hands shaking. “I’m afraid of their fate. Only God knows.”

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Media captionAlbania quake: Rescuers search for survivors

Hundreds of people spent the night in tents – or cars, fearing another tremor.

In Durres, a woman called Bukuri Morina and her family of 10 joined thousands of others to spend the night at the football stadium.

“We are afraid to go back to our apartment,” she told Reuters news agency.

“There are cracks all over and we are afraid that we will have the same destiny as people in Thumane.”

A 24-year old was the latest to be brought alive just after night fell on Tuesday.

All festivities coinciding with Albania’s independence day on Thursday have been cancelled.

Who are the victims?

Thirty-year-old painter Diena Mecaj was pulled out alive from a six-storey block of flats in Durres, but could not survive her injuries. Two hours later the body of her daughter, aged eight, was brought out of the rubble.

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Facebook/Diena Mecaj

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Diene Mecaj died in a six-storey building with her eight-year-old daughter

Mecaj lost her husband in 2015, reports say. In Facebook posts she had described life without him as a challenge.

Three members of the Gregu family perished in Thumane. Pellumb and Celike Gregu’s bodies were recovered early on Wednesday, hours after their son, Saimir, died in hospital.

Kristi Reci’s body was recovered alongside that of her father, Eduart, in their collapsed apartment in Durres. She was a 25-year-old medical student in Tirana. Rescuers were still looking for her mother and brother.

Two brothers from Kosovo are among the victims.

Shemsedin Abazi, 32, and his 29-year-old brother Isa were staying Hotel Tropikal in Durres. When the earthquake struck, they phoned for help, but by the time rescuers pulled them out – some 15 hours later – they were already dead.

The brothers had arrived in Durres only hours before the earthquake on a regular trip to put in a few days’ work as mechanics. Like Albania, Kosovo was observing a day of mourning on Wednesday.

Among the tragedies that took place as the quake struck, one man died in a car accident when the quake tore open parts of a road. Another man leapt from his balcony in panic but did not survive.

As the rescue effort continued, a 31-year-old man from Thumane died in hospital on Wednesday and two other bodies were found in the rubble.

Are earthquakes common in Albania?

The Balkans is in an area prone to seismic activity, lying close to a fault line between the Eurasian and African tectonic plates. Albania sits on a smaller, Adriatic tectonic plate.

Tuesday’s quake was Albania’s worst for decades.

In April 1979, a magnitude-6.9 quake hit Albania and northern neighbour Montenegro, leaving 136 dead and more than 1,000 injured.

That was described as the strongest ever recorded in the Balkans, more powerful than a 6.1 magnitude earthquake in July 1963 that killed more than 1,000 people in the Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

Three-quarters of the capital Skopje was destroyed and 200,000 people left homeless.

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