UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — At least 20 people were killed in the strongest earthquake in Albania in decades at dawn on Tuesday, causing major damage, including the collapse of buildings stranded under rubble, residents said.
At least 150 people have come to hospitals with minor injuries in the capital Tirana and the quake-hit port city of Durres, Albanian Health Minister Ogerta Manasterliu said.
The 6.4-magnitude quake struck at 03:54 am (0254 GMT), causing panic among residents of the capital who took to the streets, an AFP correspondent said.
“There were victims,” Albanian President Eddie Rama said in a tweet on Twitter. “We are working to secure everything we can to the affected areas.”
Troops, paramedics and families searching the rubble of a five-storey building collapsed almost completely, said journalists from Toumani, a town north of the capital that was badly damaged.
– “Science with Allah” –
In the same town, residents chant names of relatives in the hope that they will be alive, while people screaming under the rubble are heard.
Diliman Colaveri, 50, said he was scared of his 70-year-old mother and niece, 6, on the fifth floor.
“I don’t know whether they were killed or alive,” he told AFP. “I am afraid of them. We hear voices and knowledge with God.”
As the frequency of aftershocks recurs, the feeling of fear and panic increases.
Thomas Nika, 58, said at least six people were trapped in the rubble.
Arbeen Alushi told AFP with tears in his eyes that his wife and niece were in the building.
– All the Balkans felt the tremor.
Albanian seismologist Rabo Ormini told local television that it was the strongest earthquake to hit the Durres region since 1926.
The epicenter of the earthquake was identified by the Euro-Mediterranean Seismological Institute in the Adriatic Sea, 34 km southwest of Tirana, at a depth of 10 km.
Authorities deployed about 300 soldiers to take part in rescue operations in Doris and Toman, where the Defense Ministry said “people are trapped under the rubble.”
A man was killed when he threw himself from a building in the town of Corbin while the bodies of three others were pulled from the rubble in Tuman, northern Tirana, and in the coastal city of Durres, the Defense Ministry said.
The bodies of a man and a woman were recovered from the rubble of a building in Toman, north of Tirana, and the bodies of three other people, including a girl, from the rubble of buildings that collapsed in Durres.
Schools were closed.
In Toman, pictures taken by AFP show about 15 men trying to clear rubble for possible victims.
A spokeswoman for the Albanian Defense Ministry told AFP that “the damage is great.”
The seismological institute said a first tremor occurred, followed by other aftershocks with a magnitude of 5.3.
The first quake was felt in a number of Balkan cities, in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo (400 kilometers) and in Novi Sad (700 kilometers) in Serbia, according to media and messages posted by residents on social media platforms.
In September, the same area in Albania was hit by an earthquake of 5.6 magnitude, which the authorities described as the strongest “in the last 20 or 30 years”.
The tremor at the time caused panic that forced residents of many cities to take to the streets, damaged buildings and cut off power to the capital. Authorities said houses and buildings were damaged in Tirana.
The Balkans are areas of strong earthquake activity.
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