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Albania Death Toll Rises to 30 as State of Emergency Declared


Emergency personnel work at the site of a collapsed building in the town of Durres, following Tuesday's powerful earthquake that shook Albania, Nov. 27, 2019.

The death toll from the strongest earthquake to hit Albania in more than three decades rose to at least 30 Wednesday, as the country observed a day of mourning.

Her voice trembling, Defense Minister Olta Xhaçka read the names of the victims.

Albanian Defense Minister Reads Quake Victims' Names
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Among the deaths, which included children, were at least 14 people killed in the coastal city of Durrës, at least 15 in Thumanë, and at least one in Kurbin. Officials said the death toll could increase further, with several people still unaccounted for. Hundreds of others were taken to hospitals with injuries.

The government declared a state of emergency for the areas affected the most, as rescue crews continued to work to pull people from the rubble.

Rescue teams and specialized crews were dispatched from neighboring Kosovo, Italy and Greece.

Rescuers Scramble to Save Lives After 6.4-Magnitude Quake in Albania
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The European Commission said on Twitter that its stands by Albania "at this difficult time following the earthquakes."

"We have mobilized immediate support to help local authorities, and rescue teams from Italy, Greece and Romania are already on their way," a statement on Twitter said.

Help also arrived from France, Turkey, Serbia and the United States.

The U.S. Embassy also sent a statement of condolence.

"The United States stands with our friends in Albania, just as Americans and Albanians have always stood by each other during difficult times. We will continue to closely monitor the situation and stand ready to offer our support," the Embassy said.

On Wednesday, Pope Francis said he was praying for Albania.

"I would like to send a greeting and express my closeness to the dear Albanian people, who have suffered so much these days," the pope said. "Albania was the first country in Europe that I wanted to visit. I am close to the victims, I pray for the dead, for the wounded, for the families, may God bless them, the people that I love."

Citizens rest at a makeshift camp in Durres, after an earthquake shook Albania, Nov. 26, 2019.
Citizens rest at a makeshift camp in Durres, after an earthquake shook Albania, Nov. 26, 2019.

The Albanian diaspora also was rallying to help, holding several fundraisers to send money to one of the poorest countries in Europe.

"I am so heartbroken for my people back home, for those who have lost lives and loved ones," New York City Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, an Albanian American, told VOA.

Marko Kepi, of the Albanian-American organization Albanian Roots, organized a fundraiser that raised close to $1 million in less than a day.

Albanian-American Activist Heads Fundraising Campaign
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"This fundraiser is simply to help those who have lost everything, they lost their homes and to help those families who lost their loved ones, do whatever we can so they can have some sort of peaceful mind, that they are not alone, they have support and they are not going to be left out in the street," he said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake Tuesday was a magnitude 6.4 with an epicenter 30 kilometers northwest of the capital, Tirana. Three hours after the initial quake, a magnitude-5 aftershock struck in the Adriatic Sea.

Several buildings were also destroyed in Durrës and Thumanë.

"For the moment, when all energies are going towards search and rescue, it is impossible to have a detailed account of material damage," Defense Minister Xhaçka said, adding this was the worst earthquake to hit Albania, since 1979. About 40 people were killed in that earthquake.