The Malta Independent 16 December 2019, Monday

Hopes fade for any more survivors in Albania quake; 41 dead

Associated Press Thursday, 28 November 2019, 16:08 Last update: about 17 days ago

Hopes were fading Thursday of finding anyone else alive beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings in Albania, two days after a deadly quake struck the country's Adriatic coast, killing at least 41 people and injuring more than 750.

Authorities said search and rescue operations were continuing in three collapsed buildings in the port city of Durres, 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital Tirana. Searching had stopped, however, in the nearby town of Thumane, where no more people were believed to be buried in collapsed apartment buildings after six bodies were recovered from the rubble overnight.

The Health Ministry said Thursday that more than 750 people were injured in the 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck before dawn Tuesday, leading to dozens of people being trapped in collapsed apartment buildings. The main quake has been followed by hundreds of aftershocks, including at least three with magnitudes of above 5.0, which have complicated rescue efforts.

Another aftershock, with a magnitude of 4.9, rattled the area midday on Thursday, sending people fleeing into the streets in panic. At least one building suffered further damage from the aftershock, while mourners rushed from a building where they had gathered for the start of funeral ceremonies for some of the victims.

In some cases, entire families were killed in the earthquake.

Hundreds of people turned out in Durres for the funeral of the Reci family - 54-year-old Eduard, his 49-year-old wife Dolora, their son Klaus, 21 and daughter Kristi, 25, killed when their apartment building collapsed.

Rescue crews with specialized equipment, sniffer dogs and emergency supplies have flooded into the country from neighboring countries and other European nations to help in the search efforts and provide for those left homeless. Romania said Thursday it was sending an extra 52 firefighters and 12 tons of equipment on two military aircraft, while Switzerland was also sending 15 experts.

Many of those left without homes in Thumane spent a second night in tents, unwilling to head to hotels along the coast made available for their accommodation while the search operation continued. A total of about 2,100 people had spent Tuesday night in tents, and the government has vowed to provide new homes during 2020 for all those left homeless.

Authorities have warned residents not to return to any buildings that could have been damaged until engineers can check the structures for safety.

While rescue crews sifted through the rubble with diminishing chances of finding anyone else alive, questions mounted as to why some buildings collapsed while others in the same area appeared untouched, with some pointing the blame at shoddy construction practices and corruption in Albania's burgeoning building industry.

"No construction norms have been applied during the post-communist period" which began in the 1990s, said civil engineer Jorgaq Stasi, 74. "Projects lack seismological and geological studies before application."

Stasi suggested the government take drastic measures such as halting construction across the country and ensuring adequate space between buildings. He said building codes during communist times restricted constructions to a maximum of five stories, while now 10-15-story buildings were commonplace.

"With such strong quakes, catastrophic ones as they are called of 6-7 magnitude, and the way we have built everywhere, not respecting norms, it is no wonder we have calamities," he said.

Construction worker Ilir K., who would not give his full name for fear of retribution and legal issues, said owners frequently ask him to make changes to the original plans for a building's construction.

 

"I am often asked by the (person paying for the building) to add a room or to take away a cement pillar," he said. "What can I do, with the little payment I get? There is no checking, and the builder easily bribes the supervisor."


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