Albania hit by powerful earthquake, leaving 21 dead and hundreds injured

Earthquake damage in Durrës, Albania, on 26 November 2019. Photo by Redi Muçi, used with permission.

At least 21 people have died and more than 600 were injured after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Albania in the early hours of Tuesday, 26 November 2019. The epicenter was in the port city of Durrës, about 32 km from the capital Tirana.

The United States Geological Survey informed that the quake hit the country from an approximate depth of 20 kilometers. The tremor was felt in nearby cities, including the capital.

As people panicked, many were trapped in the debris of the collapsed buildings.

Rescue operations continue. Meanwhile, people are tweeting photos and videos.

Global Voices spoke with Redi Muçi, a construction engineer and professor at the Faculty of Geology and Mining in Tirana. He has witnessed the earthquake’s aftermath:

Ardi Pulaj (AP): How is the situation in the places you have visited?

Redi Muçi (RM): I visited Durrës, but not Thumana (Fushë Krujë). These are the most affected areas. There is fear there will be more victims as there is news that many people are still trapped in the debris.

AP: How are the authorities responding to the emergency?

RM: There is a full mobilization of the military, firefighters, police, who are dealing with the situation on the scenes. All are doing their best, although there seems to be a problem in managing the situation. As they are digging the debris there are people who are not using proper protective gear such as helmets and gloves. This gives you the impression that they don’t know what they are doing. I believe there is a lack of special units trained to react in such situations.

Earthquake damage in Durrës, Albania, on 26 November 2019. Photo by Redi Muçi, used with permission.

AP: What we see from the scenes are many destroyed houses. What can you say about this situation?

RM: I met engineers that were evaluating the damages. The number isn’t sufficient. I am sure there is a lack of an emergency plan that takes into consideration the seismic micro zoning, the type of buildings and the quality of them. Also, there is a lack of a detailed rescue plan when there is a catastrophe. A big number of buildings are at risk of being destroyed by aftershocks. This is dangerous for all the inhabitants and we don’t know how we will get out of this situation. Over the past years we've seen buildings being built without a rigorous criteria regarding the structures and lacking a geology study.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said all state bodies are involved in the rescue operations as he appealed to the people to remain calm. Opposition leader Lulzim Basha has called the population to help those affected by the earthquake. President Ilir Meta flew the flags at his office half-mast “in honor of lost lives from this tragedy for our country,” he said.

The Ministry of Education has ordered all schools to be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. As the country dealt with the situation, aftershocks continued. Messages of solidarity and offers of aid have been arriving from the neighboring countries, the European Union, and the United States.

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