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Quake death toll in Albania now at 26; rescuers hunt for survivors

Some of the bodies were pulled from collapsed buildings.

TIRANA, Albania — The Albanian Defense Ministry says the death toll from Tuesday’s earthquake has now reached 26.

Some 650 people were injured, and rescuers are still digging through rubble in search of survivors.

The earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.1, brought down several apartment blocks in the city of Durres and a town close to the epicenter.

The quake in Albania collapsed at least three apartment buildings while people slept, and rescue crews were working to free people believed trapped. There was no indication as to how many people might still be buried in the rubble.

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“It is a dramatic moment where we should preserve calm, stay alongside each other to cope with this shock,” Prime Minister Edi Rama said.

The Health Ministry reported about 600 people had been injured, with some in serious condition.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.4 quake, which struck just before 4 a.m. local time, had an epicenter 30 kilometers (19 miles) northwest of the capital, Tirana, at a depth of 20 kilometers (12 miles). Scores of aftershocks included three with preliminary magnitudes of between 5.1 and 5.4.

The Defense Ministry said seven bodies were pulled from rubble in the coastal city of Durres, 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital Tirana and five people were found dead in a collapsed apartment building in the northern town of Thumane. One person died after jumping from his home to escape in Kurbin, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the capital, while another person was killed on a road that collapsed in the northern town of Lezha.

Local television stations showed footage of a young boy being pulled from a collapsed building in Durres after an excavator moved a broken slab of concrete and local men pulled mangled reinforcement bars out of the way. Hours later, live TV footage showed people cheering when a child was found alive in a collapsed building in Durres where a body had been found earlier.

“We are expecting multiple aftershocks following the main earthquake. That will pose a danger to human life. People in the affected areas should be aware of this danger,” said Akis Tselentis, director of the Geodynamic Institute of Greece, speaking in Athens.

The quake was felt along the Albanian coast as well as neighboring Kosovo, Montenegro, Greece, and parts of southern Serbia.

Authorities reported scores of aftershocks — as strong as magnitude 5.5 — and called on people in the most affected areas to stay out of their homes and avoid driving in the affected areas to allow emergency vehicles free access. Many reported seeing cracks in their apartment walls.

All government agencies were on alert and "intensively working to save lives at the fatal spots in Durres and Thumane," Rama said. About 400 soldiers were setting up tents in Durres and in Fushe Kruje near Thumane in the north to house survivors left homeless by the quake.

Rama said neighboring countries, the European Union and the United States had offered help. By late morning, Greece, Italy, Kosovo, Turkey, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia were sending rescue crews to Albania.

Greece was sending about 40 rescuers, with one 26-member search and rescue team with two sniffer dogs and specialized equipment flying from Athens to Tirana on board a military aircraft, while the second team was heading to the quake zone by road from northern Greece. Italy was sending specialized urban search and rescue teams from three Italian regions while Serbia, Romania, Turkey and Montenegro were also sending search-and-rescue teams.

At least three apartment buildings and the power distribution station were damaged in Thumane.

An earthquake in September in roughly the same area damaged hundreds of homes.

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Llazar Semini reported from Tirana. Elena Becatoros and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.

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Follow Llazar Semini at https://twitter.com/lsemini