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Albania's biggest earthquake in decades, magnitude 5.6, damages buildings and sends residents fleeing

AFP-JIJI, AP

Albania was rattled by its strongest earthquake in decades Saturday, officials said, sending people fleeing into the streets in several cities, damaging buildings and triggering power cuts in the capital.

The epicenter of the shallow 5.6 magnitude quake, was near Durres, less than 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the capital, Tirana, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Albania’s defense ministry said it was the “strongest earthquake in the country in the last 20 to 30 years.”

“There are no deaths,” defense ministry spokeswoman Albana Qajaj said.

Some 80 people sought medical help in both Tirana and Durres, 21 of whom were hospitalized due to injuries caused by falling objects or parts of walls as well as for panic attacks, Health Minister Ogerta Manasterilu said.

Qajaj said that houses and buildings in Tirana had been damaged but were still standing and that the ministry was accessing damage in other towns and villages.

Authorities later said the quake had damaged about 600 homes and knocked out power and water facilities in Tirana, Durres and some other western and central districts.

Defense Minister Olta Xhacka, speaking at a Cabinet meeting Sunday where the ministers felt one of the aftershocks, said, “Luckily, oil wells were not damaged.”

The quake was followed by more than 100 aftershocks.

Prime Minister Edi Rama canceled his scheduled trip to the United States following the quake, which cut electricity and telephone lines in Tirana and a number of other towns and villages.

Many people remained outside their homes for several hours in the capital, fearful of aftershocks.

“I fear to return because such a strong earthquake could be followed with others,” said Drita Lohja, a resident in her 50s.

Falling debris pulverized parked cars in parts of the city.

A University of Tirana geology building was also damaged, witnesses said.

The main quake occurred at around 4 p.m. and was felt in neighboring Montenegro and Italy, but also on the Greek island of Corfu.

Located along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, Albania is earthquake-prone and registers seismic activity every few days.

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