Sun, 15 Dec 2019

Albania's Earthquake Search, Rescue Operation Ends

Voice of America
01 Dec 2019, 04:05 GMT+10

The search and rescue operation for earthquake survivors in Albania has ended, Prime Minister Edi Rama said Saturday.

The small town of Thumane, experienced the highest death toll from Tuesday's quake with 26 people killed, six of whom belonged to one family, and all but one under age 30. They were buried Friday.

In the port city of Durres - 30 kilometers west of the capital, Tirana -- the quake killed 24. One person also died in Kurbin.

In all, 51 people died, including seven children. Nine-hundred were injured. More than 5,000 people are without shelter; and 1,200 buildings were destroyed in the 6.4-magnitude quake and the aftershocks that followed.

Seismologist Rexhep Koci told VOA that while there is the likelihood for more aftershocks, but they would be weaker.

Neighboring countries provide assistance

The European Union sent crews to help with search and rescue immediately following the quake and now the Albanian government has asked for experts to help assess the damage.

EU Ambassador to Albania Luigi Soreca said Friday that the European Union and its member states are standing with Albania and working nonstop to provide assistance "in this very difficult moment."

"It is a week of deep sorrow and tragedy for Albania," Soreca said in a statement. "Our heartfelt condolences go once again to the Albanian people and especially to the families, friends and communities of those who have lost their lives."

More than 200 military troops from Albania, Kosovo, Italy, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, France, Turkey, Switzerland, Romania, North Macedonia, the EU and the United States, participated in the search and rescue operation.

People spontaneously came from Kosovo, operating mobile kitchens, gathering donations and opening their homes. About 500 homeless Albanians are staying in a camp set up by Kosovo's government in the city of Prizren. On Friday alone, individuals and businesses from Kosovo delivered 100 tons of much needed necessities.

Remembering victims

Tirana residents turned out in the city center to honor the victims, placing candles in a makeshift memorial near the statue of Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti, known as Skanderbeg.

Vigil for quake victims in Tirana, Nov 29 video player. Embed Copy Link

The state of emergency declared Wednesday for Durres and Thumane was extended to the heavily damaged town of Lac. Prime Minister Rama said he made the decision after opposition leader Lulzim Basha suggested it. Rama appeared to put on hold the acrimony often on display between the two political rivals.

"In this case, our concerns and ideas converge," Rama said, inviting the opposition to participate in the Committee for Earthquake Relief.

For Rama, the tragedy hit close to home as his office confirmed that among the dead was his son Gregor's fiance, Kristi Reci, whose entire family -- both parents and her brother -- died in Durres.

Physician Shkelqime Ladi said doctors are on hand to help with immediate needs.

"We are focusing more on the psychological aspect of the affected. Their psychological state is aggravated," she told VOA in Lac.

The earthquake struck two days before Albania's 107th independence day. There was no celebration, but a show of solidarity gave solemnity to the day.

Albanian President Ilir Meta and Prime Minister Rama, who have been fighting bitterly over political matters, appeared together in Vlora Thursday.

Independence Day coincided this year with the U.S. Thanksgiving Day, and many Albanian Americans rallied to collect donations, holding several fundraisers to help one of the poorest countries in Europe.

"I am so heartbroken for my people back home, for those who have lost lives and loved ones," New York City Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, an Albanian American, told VOA.

Marko Kepi, of the Albanian American organization Albanian Roots, organized a fundraiser that raised close to $1 million in less than a day.

"This fundraiser is simply to help those who have lost their homes and to help those families who lost their loved ones, do whatever we can so they can have some sort of peace of mind, that they are not alone, they have support and they are not going to be left out in the street," he said.

Armand Mero reported from Tirana, Ilirian Agolli reported from Durres, Pellumb Sulo reported from Lac.

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