Albanian quake toll at near-record 39

AP, Reuters

Two days after a deadly quake struck Albania’s Adriatic coast, hopes were fading Thursday of finding anyone else alive beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings, with the death toll rising after more bodies were pulled from the ruins overnight.

Prime Minister Edi Rama put the death toll at 39 after authorities said six more bodies had been recovered from the northwestern town of Thumane and two from the port city of Durres, 20 miles (33 kilometers) west of the capital, Tirana.

More than 650 people were injured in the 6.4 magnitude earthquake when it struck before dawn Tuesday.

Authorities said the search operation had ended in Thumane, with no more people believed to be missing in the collapsed buildings there. It continued, however, in Durres.

Italian rescue teams had sought on Wednesday to save six family members, including twin toddlers, trapped under rubble when their house collapsed after Albania’s worst earthquake in decades.

If the death toll continues to rise, the earthquake could be deadlier than one in 1979 in which 40 people were killed.

Nine members of the Lala family were initially trapped but a boy of 17 was pulled out alive on Tuesday. The bodies of a 79-year-old woman and an 8-year-old girl were later recovered by the rescue workers, watched by relatives and the twins’ father.

The rescue workers believed that two girls 18 months old, two boys of 6 and 7, a 16-year-old girl and a disabled man of 52 were still under the rubble.

The quake was felt across the Balkans and in the southern Italian region of Puglia, on the other side of the Adriatic Sea from Albania.

A 5.3 magnitude quake also struck just off Albania’s coast on Wednesday afternoon 38 km from Tirana, causing cracks to a high-rise apartment building in a main street in the capital. Residents fled and police cordoned off the area.

Located along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas between Greece and Montenegro, Albania is prone to seismic activity. A quake measuring 6.0 also jolted the Greek island of Crete on Wednesday, though no damage or injuries were reported.

Albania was shaken by at least 250 aftershocks — three of them magnitude 5 — from Tuesday to Wednesday. Hundreds of people spent the night sleeping in tents pitched by the emergency services.

Italy, France, Romania, Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia have sent 200 specialized troops, tools and teams of tracker dogs to help the relief effort.

The government declared Wednesday a day of mourning and Rama said the authorities would rehouse people who had lost their homes in hotels during the winter.

“I believe we shall put them in new houses in 2020, in better housing than they had,” Rama said in a televised comment.

He said a donor conference with Turkey and regional countries would be organized and he would discuss potential help with NATO allies during next week’s summit in London.

Albania is the poorest country in Europe, with per capita income a quarter of the European Union average, according to the International Monetary Fund.

In Thumane, a man called Adrian Muci said six of his relatives had been killed and his own house was on the point of collapse.

“I have other cousins and relatives but I don’t know where they are and if they are dead or not,” he told Reuters. “I will never be able to live in my house anymore.”