By Fatos Bytyci and Benet Koleka
THUMANE/DURRES, Albania (Reuters) – Emergency crews using drones, dogs and diggers recovered five more bodies on Wednesday from the rubble of Albania’s worst earthquake in decades, bringing the death toll to at least 27.
In the town of Thumane, close to the centre of Tuesday’s 6.4 magnitude quake, a woman stood in front of a collapsed building calling out for help to find her niece.
Rescue workers found several bodies soon after sunrise and in the afternoon, food was distributed to thousands of people in Thumane, many still awaiting for news of family and friends.
A 5.3 magnitude quake struck just off Albania’s coast on Wednesday afternoon 38 km (24 miles) from the capital Tirana, where some shaken by the tremor shut their shops.
The Defence Ministry also briefly suspended all rescue efforts following the sizeable aftershock.
In one of the busiest streets in Albania’s main port and tourist resort of Durres, two people were feared trapped in the rubble of a collapsed hotel.
“We don’t know whether they are alive or not,” said Mert Eryuksel, a rescue worker from Turkey.
Temperatures in Albania were expected to remain well above 10 degrees Celsius (50°F) in the coming days but rain forecast for Thursday could hamper the rescue efforts.
Countrywide, the Defence Ministry said about 650 people had been injured and another 20 reported missing.
If the death toll continues to rise, the earthquake could be more deadly than one in 1979 when 40 people were killed.
The quake, centred 30 km west of Tirana, was felt across the Balkans and in the southern Italian region of Puglia, across the Adriatic Sea from Albania.
Located along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas between Greece and Montenegro, Albania is prone to seismic activity. A quake measuring 6.0 also jolted the Greek island of Crete on Wednesday though no damage or injuries were reported.
At least 250 aftershocks – three of them magnitude 5 – shook Albania continuing into Wednesday. Hundreds of people spent the night sleeping in tents pitched by the emergency services.
Italy, France, Romania, Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia have sent 200 specialised troops, tools and teams of tracker dogs to help the relief effort.
The government proclaimed Wednesday a day of mourning and Prime Minister Edi Rama said the authorities would rehouse people who had lost their homes in hotels during the winter.
“I believe we shall put them in new houses within 2020, in better housing than they had,” Rama said in a televised comment.
He said a donor conference with Turkey and regional countries would be organised and he would discuss potential help with NATO allies during next week’s summit in London.
Albania is the poorest country in Europe, with per capita income a quarter of the European Union average, according to the International Monetary Fund.
In Thumane, a man called Adrian Muci said six of his relatives had died in two separate buildings and his own house was on the point of collapse.
“I have other cousins and relatives but I don’t know where they are and if they are dead or not,” he told Reuters. “I will never be able to live in my house any more.”
For a graphic on the location and intensity of the quakes, click – https://tmsnrt.rs/2KUWRQo
(Reporting by Fatos Bytycy and Benet Koleka; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Andrew Heavens and David Clarke)