Two powerful earthquakes have hit the Balkans within hours of each other. At least 13 people were killed in Albania when the most powerful quake to hit the country in decades struck. A further 300 people were injured as buildings collapsed in several towns, leaving people trapped in the rubble. The 6.4 tremor hit just before 4am local time with the epicentre 19 miles north-west of the capital Tirana.
President Ilir Meta described it as ‘very dramatic’ as it was so strong it was felt across the Balkans and in the southern Italian region of Puglia. Hours later, a magnitude 5.4 earthquake hit Bosnia with an epicentre 45 miles south of the capital Sarajevo. There were no reports of injuries or structural damage.
Eyewitnesses to the disaster in Albania described how residents fled apartment buildings with babies in their arms after the blast. Marjana Gjoka was sleeping in her apartment on the fourth floor of a five-storey building when the quake shattered the two top floors. She said: ‘The roof collapsed on our head and I don’t know how we escaped. God helped us.’ Most of the dead so far have been found in the rubble in collapsed apartment buildings in the towns of Thumane, Durres and Lezhe. One man died after jumping from his home in Kurbin to escape the tremor while another was killed in a car accident as the tremor tore open parts of the road. Emergency workers said one of those killed in a collapsed building was an elderly woman who saved her grandson by protecting him with her body.
Firefighters, police and civilians are currently removing the debris from destroyed buildings that have trapped people in Thumane. Rescuers are using a mechanical digger to claw at collapsed masonry while people are also using their bare hands to try to save their neighbours. Neighbouring Kosovo is sending an emergency team to help Albania, the poorest nation in Europe, deal with the incident. Some 38 people have been pulled from the rubble so far, including two who are in a very grave condition according to doctors. . It is not clear how many other people remain buried in the rubble. Dulejman Kolaveri, a man in his 50s in Thumane, said he feared his 70-year-old mother and six-year-old niece were trapped, because they lived on the fifth floor of the building. ‘I don’t know if they are dead or alive. I’m afraid of their fate. Only God knows,’ he said with trembling hands. President Ilir Meta said that ‘the situation is very dramatic. All efforts are being done to take the people out of the ruins.’
Refik, a Tirana resident, said: ‘Everything at home kept falling down. ‘We were awake because of the previous quakes, but the last one shook us around,’ he said referring to several smaller tremors before the main earthquake. Albania, located along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas between Greece and Macedonia, regularly experiences seismic activity. An earthquake of 5.6 magnitude shook the country on September 21, damaging or destroying around 500 houses. But this morning’s quake is the most powerful in 30 years. The authorities are fearful of aftershocks and have told people in the affected areas to stay out of their homes.