Hope and fear in Albania as rescuers scour post-quake wreckage

Durrës (Albania) (AFP) –


Cries of anguish and joy wrench the Albanian city of Durres as relatives watch rescuers pull bodies out from the wreckage of a powerful earthquake. Some are dead, but others are alive.

"We saved a life... I'm happy," says Agim, a relieved paramedic who helped with the difficult rescue of one young man who was stuck inside a collapsed hotel bar on the city's beach.

It was a welcome moment of celebration for city reeling from the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck Albania before dawn on Tuesday, knocking down buildings and trapping victims in the destruction.

Durres, a tourist destination on the Adriatic coast and home to around 400,000, was hit hard by the earthquake, which was said to be the most powerful in the Balkan state in decades.

Of the nearly 20 people found dead so far, including a young girl, many have been pulled from the rubble of buildings that crumbled in Durres and the neighbouring town of Thumane.

But dozens have also been rescued alive.

Teams of soldiers, police and emergency workers quickly descended on the Durres region to help with a delicate search and rescue effort, using shovels, cranes and excavators to pick through the ruins.

Near the toppled seaside hotel, rescuers used ropes to haul out the young man's body in an operation that lasted for "more than two hours", said Agim.

Onlookers clapped with joy and yelled "Bravo" as the young man, who asked for water after he emerged, was put on stretcher and taken away for medical care.

"We had to be careful, one mistake would have been fatal," said Agim.

- Cries from inside -

In front of another destroyed building in the city, the wails of a woman trapped inside were audible to distressed onlookers.

Numerous aftershocks also sent panic through the shaken city, with locals running in fear and children crying on the streets.

Overcome with grief and worry, many refused to talk to journalists.

"A nine-year-old girl is struggling in there with death," a woman in her 50s shouted at the media in front of a collapsed five-story building where nine people were thought to still be trapped.

Nearby, another 10-storey building was severely damaged, while the facade of a large hotel was cracked.

Albania is known for haphazard urban planning, particularly along the coast where many build without proper permits.

"It's terrible, it's horrible," 25-year-old Astrid Cani said in tears as the city dug out victims. "We hope they will get them out alive."