Almost 50 dead, more than 5,000 displaced in Albania quake

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 29 2019 09:18 PM

Emergency personnel carry a body during a search for survivors in a collapsed building in Durres, after an earthquake shook Albania, November 28, 2019. Florion Goga, Reuters

TIRANA, Albania - Albania's prime minister said the country had been "wounded" by the violent earthquake this week that killed whole families and pulverized buildings, as he gave a new toll on Friday of 49 dead and 5,000 displaced.

The 6.4-magnitude quake that jolted Albania before dawn on Tuesday was the deadliest and most destructive in decades. 

Entire families were crushed by their homes while they were sleeping. 

"We have all been touched and wounded" by the tragedy, said Prime Minister Edi Rama, his voice strained as he mentioned the death of a close friend of his son, a medical student whose body was found in the rubble with her brother and two parents. 

The damage was most concentrated near the Adriatic coast in the port city of Durres and the town of Thumane, where scores of people were trapped beneath the wreckage of toppled apartments and hotels.

Loved ones and neighbors have watched in agony this week as rescue teams pulled corpses from the ruins. 

On Friday the search effort wound down to focus on one or two sites in Durres, including a collapsed beach-side hotel. 

Around 45 people were rescued from the ruins alive by relief teams, who were backed up by experts from around Europe with dogs, cameras and other equipment to comb through the rubble.

In Durres and Thumane, almost 2,000 people have been moved into hotels or other buildings -- either because of severe damage to their homes or because hundreds of aftershocks made their apartments unsafe.

Another 3,480 people in the capital Tirana fled in panic to shelters, with some now housed in reception centers and many staying in homes of relatives, Rama said.

There were no casualties in Tirana but nearly 70 buildings and 250 homes were damaged, he said. 

Teams of experts are being organized to assess the risk of damaged buildings, said Defense Minister Olta Xhacka, who urged residents to leave any homes affected by the quake. 

"The situation of buildings with damaged structures is as dangerous as on the first day, so don't stay there, leave them," she said. 

Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe and its urbanization developed chaotically after the fall of communism in the 1990s. 

A lot of construction has been done "without a building permit, without respecting rules... using non-standard materials," local architect Maks Velo told AFP.

The government has promised to build new houses for earthquake victims by 2020.

Donations in multiple currencies have poured in and are expected to exceed 5 million euros ($5.5 million), as well as $1.5 million, Rama said.