Powerful earthquake in Albania kills 14, injures hundreds

Rescue crews used excavators to search for survivors trapped in toppled apartment buildings after a powerful pre-dawn earthquake in Albania killed at least 14 people and injured more than 600.

The 6.4 magnitude quake was felt across the southern Balkans early Tuesday and was followed by multiple aftershocks. 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.

The quake collapsed at least three apartment buildings while people slept, and rescue crews were working to free people believed trapped. There was no indication as to how many people might still be buried in the rubble.

The bodies of three people were removed from a collapsed building in the coastal city of Durres, 33 kilometres west of the capital Tirana, the Defence Ministry said. Another two people were found dead and removed from the rubble of a building in Thumane, while one person died after jumping from his home to escape shaking from the quake in Kurbin, 50 kilometres north of the capital.

WATCH: Houses reduced to rubble in Albania after earthquake

The most powerful earthquake to hit Albania in decades rocked the capital Tirana and surrounding region early on Tuesday, causing buildings to collapse and burying residents under rubble. 1:42

Local television stations showed footage of a young boy being pulled from a collapsed building after an excavator moved a broken slab of concrete and local men pulled mangled reinforcement bars out of the way.

The Health Ministry is reporting that around 600 people have been injured, some who are still in very serious condition.

All government agencies were on alert and “intensively working to save lives at the fatal spots in Durres and Thumane,” Rama said. About 400 soldiers are putting up tents in two towns to shelter people with damaged houses.

“It is a dramatic moment where we should preserve calm, stay alongside each other to cope with this shock,” Prime Minister Edi Rama said, thanking countries that offered support.

Military and emergency personnel put an injured man on a stretcher in Thumane. The 6.4 magnitude quake was felt across the southern Balkans early Tuesday. (Florion Goga/Reuters)

Rama said neighbouring countries, the European Union and the U.S. had offered to send assistance. Rama said he had spoken to his Italian, Greek and Turkish counterparts and with the EU and U.S. embassies in Tirana.

Greece was sending about 40 rescuers, with one 26-member search and rescue team with two sniffer dogs and specialized equipment flying from Athens to Tirana on board a military aircraft, while the second team was heading to the quake zone by road from northern Greece. Italy was sending specialized urban search and rescue teams from three Italian regions while Serbia, Romania, Turkey and Montenegro were also sending search-and-rescue teams.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 6.4 quake, which struck just before 4 a.m. local time, had an epicentre 30 kilometres northwest of the capital Tirana, at a depth of 20 kilometres. Scores of aftershocks included three with preliminary magnitudes of between 5.1 and 5.4.

“We are expecting multiple aftershocks following the main earthquake. That will pose a danger to human life. People in the affected areas should be aware of this danger,” said Akis Tselentis, director of the Geodynamic Institute of Greece, speaking in Athens.

‘Ready to offer assistance’

Neighbouring Kosovo was sending an emergency crew, while Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ordered a fire department rescue unit specializing in disaster response to travel to Albania, Greek authorities said. The Turkish ambassador also said his country was sending a team of rescuers and medics.

The European Union is sending condolences to the people of Albania following the earthquake and says it stands ready with emergency aid should it be required.

Foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and humanitarian aid commissioner Christos Stylianides say the EU “is ready to offer assistance.”

They say that EU emergency services are “in continuous contact with Albania’s civil protection authorities.”

Emergency personnel work near a damaged building. Officials said around 300 injured people were treated in Durres, Tirana and Thumane. (Florion Goga/Reuters)

The quake was felt along the Albanian coast as well as Kosovo, Montenegro, Greece, and parts of southern Serbia.

Authorities reported scores of aftershocks — as strong as magnitude 5.5 — and called on people in the most affected areas to stay out of their homes and avoid driving in the affected areas to allow emergency vehicles free access. Many reported seeing cracks in their apartment walls.

Seismologists say a strong earthquake has rattled southern Bosnia, several hours after a deadly quake struck in nearby Albania. It is unclear if this was a separate quake or an aftershock. 

The GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, which monitors global earthquake activity, said the shallow earthquake of magnitude 5.4 tremor occurred just after 9 a.m. local time southeast of the capital Sarajevo.

At least three apartment buildings and the power distribution station were damaged in Thumane.

An earthquake in September in roughly the same area damaged hundreds of homes.

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