At least 13 people were killed when the most powerful earthquake to hit Albania in decades shook the capital Tirana and the country’s west and north on Tuesday, tearing down buildings and burying residents under rubble. Residents, some carrying babies, fled apartment buildings in Tirana and the western port of Durres after the quake struck shortly before 4 a.m. (0300 GMT).
The 6.4 magnitude quake was centered 30 km (19 miles) west of Tirana, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said, and was also felt across the Balkans and in the southern Italian region of Puglia. Hours later a magnitude 5.4 earthquake hit Bosnia, with an epicentre 75 km (45 miles) south of Sarajevo, monitors said.
In the northern Albanian town of Thumane, Marjana Gjoka, 48, was sleeping in her apartment on the fourth floor of a five-storey building when the quake shattered the top floors. “The roof collapsed on our head and I don’t know how we escaped. God helped us,” said Gjoka, whose three-year-old niece was among four people in the apartment when the quake struck.
Five people were found dead in the rubble of apartment buildings in Thumane, and a man died in the town of Kurbin after jumping out of a building, a Defence Ministry spokeswoman said. Seven bodies were pulled from collapsed buildings in Durres, the main port and tourism destination, the Defence Ministry said, adding 39 had been pulled out alive from under the ruins. Defence Minister Olta Xhacka said 135 people were injured.
Firefighters, police and civilians were removing the debris from collapsed buildings in Thumane. Most of the buildings that collapsed were built of bricks, a Reuters reporter said. Rescuers there used a mechanical digger to claw at collapsed masonry and remove a tangle of metal and cables. Others groped with bare hands to clear rubble.
Greece had sent emergency services for search and rescue operations, its premier’s office said. Albania is the poorest country in Europe, with an average income of less than a third of the European Union average, according to Eurostat data.
On September 21, an earthquake of 5.6 magnitude had previously shook the country, damaging around 500 houses and destroying some.