Albania Earthquake Kills 9

Albania Earthquake Kills 9

THUMANE, Albania (AP) -- Rescue crews used excavators to search for survivors trapped in toppled apartment buildings Tuesday after a powerful pre-dawn earthquake in Albania killed at least nine people and injured more than 300.

The 6.4 magnitude quake was felt across the southern Balkans 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.

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.

"It is a dramatic moment where we should preserve calm, stay alongside each other to cope with this shock," Prime Minister Edi Rama said, adding that neighboring countries, the European Union and the United States had offered help. By late morning, Greece, Italy, Kosovo, Turkey, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia were sending rescue crews to Albania.

Greece was sending about 40 rescuers, with one 26-member search and rescue team with two sniffer dogs and specialized equipment flying from Athens to Tirana on board a military aircraft, while the second team was heading to the quake zone by road from northern Greece. Italy was sending specialized urban search and rescue teams from three Italian regions while Serbia, Romania, Turkey and Montenegro were also sending search-and-rescue teams.

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.

The bodies of three people were removed from a collapsed apartment building in the coastal city of Durres, 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital Tirana, while a fourth was found dead in a hotel that collapsed, the Defense Ministry said. Another three people were found dead in a collapsed apartment building in the northern town of Thumane. One person died after jumping from his home to escape shaking from the quake in Kurbin, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the capital, while another person died in the northern town of Lezha.

All government agencies were on alert and "intensively working to save lives at the fatal spots in Durres and Thumane," Rama said. Authorities were setting up tents in Durres and in Fushe Kruje near Thumane in the north to house survivors left homeless by the quake.

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.

(KR)