Albania quake toll hits 50 as search for survivors ends

Military members stand guard next to the coffins of eight members of the Lala family, who were killed during an earthquake that shook Albania, in Durres, Albania. (Reuters Photo)

The death toll from a powerful Albanian earthquake rose to 50 as the search for survivors was called off, Prime Minister Edi Rama said Saturday.

The 6.4 magnitude quake that hit the Balkan country before dawn on Tuesday was the most deadly and destructive in decades and left about 5,000 people homeless.

"The number of the earthquake victims reached 50 and rescue operations have ended," Rama told a cabinet meeting while struggling to hold back tears.

Entire families were crushed in their homes while they were sleeping, forcing relatives and neighbours to watch in agony as rescue teams pulled bodies from the ruins this week.

About 900 people were injured, of whom 41 are still hospitalised, according to the defence ministry.

The damage was the worst near the Adriatic coast in the port city of Durres and the town of Thumane, where scores of people were trapped beneath the wreckage of apartment buildings and hotels.

The funeral of eight members of the Lala family, including four children, killed in Durres was to be held later on Saturday.

Only one member of the family, Rame Lala, 19, survived when his four-storey home collapsed.

He sustained serious injuries and was evacuated to Italy with two other victims for specialised care.

Nearly 2,500 people from the worst-hit areas have been moved into hotels or other buildings.

Another 3,480 people in the capital Tirana, where there were no casualties, fled to shelters, with some now housed in reception centres and others staying in the homes of relatives, Rama said.

The prime minister on Saturday expressed "deep gratitude" to rescue teams from Albania and around Europe who had pulled some 50 people from the ruins.

Rama met a French team in Durres on Friday, commenting that "two weeks ago, football world champions were in Albania", in reference to a Euro 2020 qualifying match against France.

Now it was "world champions in rescuing the lives of others" who had shown up, he said on Twitter.

Rana also attended the burials of nine people from two families who had died in Thumane.

Towns in one of Europe's poorest countries, which has a population of 2.8 million people, developed chaotically after the fall of communism in the 1990s.

Experts say a lot of construction took place without respect for building codes and with cheaper materials.

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