Search in Albania quake reduced, death toll at 49

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) – The operation to find survivors and recover bodies from Albania’s deadly earthquake was winding down Friday, with rescue crews limiting their efforts to a collapsed beachfront hotel in the port town of Durres as the death toll climbed to 49.

Albanian, Serb and Montenegrin rescue crews were working through the ruins of the hotel, where one person was still believed to be missing, Defense Ministry spokeswoman Albana Qehajaj said. Neighboring countries and European Union nations rushed in rescue crews and specialized equipment hours after the quake struck.

About 2,000 people were injured in Tuesday’s 6.4-magnitude pre-dawn quake, said Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu, after information was collected from hospitals, small health centers, homes and those now staying in tents.

The most seriously affected areas were Durres, 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital, Tirana, and the nearby town of Thumane. The search operation in Thumane ended Wednesday, and mourners were preparing to bury some of the victims of the earthquake in a series of funerals on Friday.

The earthquake struck as people slept, and nearly all of those killed were trapped when their apartment buildings or hotels they were staying in collapsed on top of them. Hundreds of aftershocks, with at least three of magnitudes greater than 5, have rattled the country and complicated rescue efforts.

Apart from the buildings that collapsed, Prime Minister Edi Rama said preliminary figures showed about 700 buildings in Durres and more than 235 in Tirana were seriously damaged.

“Now comes the hard time for us, with nonstop work to bring life back to normal,” said Rama, who said he had appealed for international help in reconstruction efforts. He has vowed to re-house all those left homeless “in better living conditions than before the quake,” within a year.

Greece said it was responding to Rama’s appeal for help by sending a specialized 16-member team of engineers from the country’s natural disaster relief agency to help in reconstruction on Friday. The team was to fly to Albania on a military plane that would bring back the two teams of Greek disaster response firefighters that have been working in search-and-rescue efforts since Tuesday afternoon.

“The priority now is shelter, food and care for any homeless citizen,” said Albanian Defense Minister Olta Xhacka, adding engineers have begun assessing damaged homes. Preliminary estimates put the number of people left homeless by the quake at 4,000.

“No one will remain in the street,” she said.

About 500 people spent a third night in tents in Thumane, while a total of about 2,000 people from Durres and Thumane were moved to temporary accommodation in hotels, schools and sports halls.

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Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.

Turkish rescuers search at a collapsed building in Durres, western Albania, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. 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, with the death toll increasing to 40 after more bodies were pulled from the ruins. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
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