TIRANA – Rescue crews with excavators searched for survivors trapped in toppled apartment buildings and hotels Tuesday as the death toll from a powerful pre-dawn earthquake in Albania climbed to 21, with more than 600 people injured.
The magnitude-6.4 quake was felt across the southern Balkans and was followed by multiple aftershocks, with several above magnitude 5. In nearby Bosnia, another temblor with a preliminary magnitude of 5.4 struck southeast of the capital Sarajevo, causing only minor damage.
The quake in Albania knocked down apartment buildings and hotels while people slept, and rescue crews worked into the evening to free more people believed trapped. There was no indication as to how many might still be buried in the rubble, as neighboring countries and European Union nations sent search-and-rescue crews to help.
The government declared an official day of mourning for Wednesday, with Albanian flags on official buildings to fly at half-staff. Schools would remain closed until Monday, as Thursday and Friday were national holidays. The country’s soccer federation announced all matches would be cancelled for the rest of the week.
Local television stations showed footage in the early hours after the quake of a young boy being rescued from a collapsed building in the coastal town of Durres, 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital Tirana and one of the worst-hit areas. An excavator moved a broken slab of concrete and the boy cried and shouted in pain as local men pulled mangled reinforcement bars out of the way trying to try to free his leg from the rubble.
Hours later, live TV footage showed people cheering as another child was found alive in a collapsed building in Durres where a body had been located earlier. In total, 43 people had been rescued from the rubble of buildings by Tuesday evening.
Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said more than 600 people had been treated for injuries, including nine hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.
“It is a dramatic moment where we should preserve calm, (and) stay alongside each other to cope with this shock,” Prime Minister Edi Rama said. He later visited Durres, where 12 people died, and the northern town of Thumane where another seven people were killed by a collapsing apartment building. One person died after jumping from his home to escape in Kurbin, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Tirana, while another was killed on a road that collapsed in the northern town of Lezha.