Six dead, 300 injured as powerful earthquake rocks Albania

The quake was the strongest to hit the country in at least 30 years

Photo: AFP Emergency workers clear debris at a damaged building in Thumane, about 34km northwest of capital Tirana, after an earthquake hit Albania today.

Six people died and some 300 were injured in Albania after the strongest earthquake in decades rocked the Balkan country early Tuesday, destroying buildings and burying victims in rubble. The epicentre of the 6.4 magnitude quake was about 34km northwest of the capital Tirana, at a depth of 10 km, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.

The quake struck at 3:54 am local time (0254 GMT) and sent panicked residents running out onto the streets of Tirana, with people huddling in the open, an AFP correspondent said. The worst damage appeared to be around the coastal town of Durres. The quake was the strongest to hit this region since 1926, Albanian seismologist Rrapo Ormeni told local television.

"We have victims," Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter. "We are working to do everything possible in the affected areas."

Meanwhile, Albanian President Ilir Meta said the situation in the town of Thumane, closest to the epicenter, was especially “dramatic.”

“All efforts are being made to take the people out of the ruins,” he said, and called on the Cabinet to request international assistance.

Three bodies were pulled from the ruins of damaged buildings in Durres, where a three-story hotel collapsed and other buildings were damaged, according to the defence ministry. The bodies of a man and a woman were uncovered in rubble in the nearby town of Thumane, the ministry said. Meanwhile, a man in his fifties died after he jumped out of his building in panic in the town of Kurbin, the defence ministry said.

Some 300 armed forces personnel have rushed to Durres and Thumane for rescue operations, where "there are people trapped under the ruins", defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qahajaj said.

In Thumane, around a dozen rescuers used an excavator to dig through a mountain of debris in search of possible victims. At least 300 people with injuries have sought first aid in Tirana, Thumane and Durres, Health Minister Ogerta Manasterliu said.

The tremors were felt across the Balkan region, from Sarajevo to Bosnia and even in the Serbian city of Novi Sad almost 700km away, according to reports in local media and on social networks. It was followed by several aftershocks, including one of 5.3 magnitude, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre said.

It was described by authorities as the strongest earthquake in the last 20-30 years.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said neighboring countries, the European Union and the United States had offered to send assistance. Rama said he had spoken to his Italian, Greek and Turkish counterparts and with the EU and US embassies in Tirana.

According to most recent news, neighbouring Kosovo was sending an emergency crew, while Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ordered a fire department rescue crew 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.

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