Strong Quake Hits Albania; Sixteen Dead, Hundreds Injured

TIRANA, Albania (AP) -
A bulldozer operates on a damaged building after a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck in Durres, western Albania, Tuesday. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)

At least 16 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 6.4 magnitude quake struck shortly before 4 a.m.

In the northern 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. G-d helped us,” said Gjoka, whose three-year-old niece was among four people in the apartment when the quake struck.

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).

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

“All efforts are being done to take the people out of the ruins,” he said.

Defense Ministry spokeswoman Albana Qehajaj said the bodies of two people were taken out of a collapsed building in the coastal city of Durres, 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital Tirana. One more person had been found dead in the same building earlier in the morning, while two bodies were removed from the rubble of a collapsed building in Thumane.

Another person died after jumping from his home to escape shaking from the quake in Kurbin, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of the capital, the Defense Ministry said.

Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said some 300 injured people were treated in Durres, Tirana and Thumane.

The quake was felt along the Albanian coast.

Authorities reported scores of aftershocks and called on people in the most affected areas to stay out of their homes. 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.