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Rescuers keep working in Albanian town as death toll hits 40

Rescuers keep working in Albanian town as death toll hits 40
A rescue dog searches for survivors in a collapsed building in Durres, after an earthquake shook Albania, November 28, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga -
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FLORION GOGA(Reuters)
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By Benet Koleka

DURRES, Albania (Reuters) – Rescue teams desperately sought survivors under rubble in Albania’s western town of Durres on Thursday hoping to pull out toddler twins alive, two days after a 6.4 magnitude quake killed at least 40 people.

Spared by killer quakes since 1979, Albania lacks rescue know-how. Italy, Greece, Romania and others rushed teams in and they are searching for survivors as 530 aftershocks, some with a magnitude over 5, kept rocking buildings and scaring people.

Berti Lala, 40, watched Italian rescue officers in the search for his twin son and daughter, barely two, his boy of six, his wife and paralysed older brother. They were all on the second floor of a collapsed four-storey house, built in reclaimed marshland in Durres, Albania’s main port.

His other daughter, Amelia, 8, his mother Sehadete, 79, and his niece Griselda, 23, were trapped and killed by the collapsing walls. His nephew Rame, 17, was pulled out alive

Working incessantly and methodically, the Italians drilled off chunks of concrete to be removed by hand. Afterwards a team of Albanian soldiers shovelled debris away energetically. A mechanised digger was called to move off more.

They stopped to poke lights into a furrow. No luck. Chipping off chunks of wreckage resumed. For a time only the crackle of shards of brick was heard in the night. The Italian team leader directed the Albanian digger operator with hand gestures.

Shortly before 4 a.m, a clothes hanger, blue and orange towels and a toolbox appeared.

A plastic shower base and a tiled wall were uncovered later, a sign the excavators had reached the third floor, above where the toddlers were trapped. The digger’s forked bucket lifted a slab for the Italians to look below.

In the northern town of Thumane, where 22 people died, searches were halted after all victims were pulled out, including the bodies of a mother and daughter found embracing each other under the rubble of a five-storey building.

The quake on Tuesday, centred 30 km (19 miles) west of the capital Tirana, was felt across the Balkans and in the southern Italian region of Puglia across the Adriatic Sea.

Some 45 people were pulled alive from under the rubble. A handful of the 650 injured are in a serious condition.

The government has declared a state of emergency for 30 days in the areas of Durres and Thumane, the worst affected, and promised it would build new houses by the end of next year for those who lost them.

The costs of the damage and reconstruction have yet to be determined. Two donor conferences have been mentioned and a wave of solidarity has spread in the Albanian Diaspora.

With festivities for Albania’s independence day cancelled, Interior Minister Sander LLeshaj distributed a photo of a rescue worker displaying a flag found under the ruins in Thumane shortly before midnight.

“For a few moments, it stopped the pain of mourning and brought back the light of hope,” he said on Facebook.

(Reporting by Benet Koleka, Editing by Ivana Sekularac and Peter Graff)

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