ALBANIA – At least 16 people have died and 600 people have been injured after a powerful earthquake hit Albania in the early hours of Tuesday, causing damage along the country’s Adriatic coastline and in the capital, Tirana. Several buildings collapsed, burying residents in the rubble.
The 6.4-magnitude quake struck shortly before 4 am local time (0300 GMT), the US Geological Survey said, and was the second powerful tremor to hit the region in two months. It was centred 19 miles west of Tirana, at a shallow depth of 12.4 miles. Scores of aftershocks included three with preliminary magnitudes of between 5.1 and 5.4.
Endri Fuga, the Albanian government’s director of communications, wrote on Twitter shortly before midday local time that 28 people have been pulled alive from the rubble and 600 people have been given medical assistance. “Emergency teams arriving from Kosovo, Italy, Greece and other neighbours. Rescuers being helped by volunteers in an unprecedented show of solidarity,” he wrote.
Neighbouring countries, the European Union and the United States have all offered immediate support.
In a text message to the Guardian, prime minister Edi Rama had only two words to describe scenes of chaos and tragedy. “It’s devastating,” he wrote.
But experts were warning the worse was unlikely to be over for the Balkan country.
“For sure we will have an aftershock in the order of 5.9 [on the Richter scale] in the next hours, or days,” said Greek professor Ethymios Lekkas one of the region’s most prominent seismologists. The geologist predicted that the damage was likely to be “extensive” because so many buildings in the poverty-stricken country were “in such bad shape.”
An unidentified man, with a wound dressing on his right cheek, told News24 TV his daughter and niece were among those trapped in a collapsed apartment building in the coastal city of Durrës.
“I talked with my daughter and niece on the phone. They said they are well and are waiting for the rescue. I could not talk to my wife. There are other families, but I could not talk to them,” the man said.
Schools in the country have been closed for the day, and flights from Tirana’s airport suspended because of damage to the building.
The early reports of fatalities included two women who were found in the rubble of an apartment building in Thumanë and a man who died in the town of Kurbin after jumping out of a building.
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Kjo është një ditë e rëndë për të gjithë ne! Lutemi për të gjithë të mbijetuarit, për ata që përpiqen t’ja dalin nga rrënojat. Mbaroftë me kaq kjo fatkeqësi natyrore e njerëzore në Shqipërinë tonë, ngushëllime të gjithëve për viktimat dhe bravo ekipeve të shpëtimit dhe qytetarëve për solidaritetin e pakursyer. Jemi me ju 😢🙏 #albania #tragedy #earthquake #albaniaearthquake
Three people died in the western port city of Durrës, 20 miles from Tirana, including two whose bodies were taken out of a collapsed building. Emergency workers told local media one of those killed in Durrës was an elderly woman who had managed to save her grandson by shielding him with her body.
Another victim died in an accident on a road cut off by debris in north-western Lezhë.