Rescue crews used excavators to search for survivors trapped in toppled apartment buildings after a powerful pre-dawn earthquake in Albania killed at least eight people and injured more than 300.
A damaged building is seen after 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit Albania's Durres city on November 26, 2019. (Photo: VCG)
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.
Greece and Kosovo promised to help with rescuers in Albania.
“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.
Rama said neighboring 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.
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 U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.4 quake, which struck just before 4 a.m. local time, had an epicenter 30 kilometers (19 miles) northwest of the capital, Tirana, at a depth of 20 kilometers (12 miles). Scores of aftershocks included three with preliminary magnitudes of between 5.1 and 5.4.
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.
“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.
Neighboring 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 bodies of three people were removed from a collapsed building in the coastal city of Durres, 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital Tirana, the Defense 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 kilometers (30 miles) north of the capital.
Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said around 300 injured people were treated in Durres, Tirana and Thumane.
All government agencies were on alert and "intensively working to save lives at the fatal spots in Durres and Thumane," Rama said.
The quake was felt along the Albanian coast as well as neighboring 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.
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.