More than 20 dead as Albania hunts for earthquake survivors

Emergency workers clear debris at a damaged building in Thumane, 34 kilometers northwest of capital Tirana, after an earthquake hit Albania. (AFP)
Updated 27 November 2019

More than 20 dead as Albania hunts for earthquake survivors

  • Teams of soldiers, police and emergency workers sifted through the debris of shredded apartment blocks and hotels in towns near Albania’s northwest Adriatic coast
  • Most of the victims were found in the infrastructural wreckage of the coastal city of Durres and Thumane, a town north of the capital Tirana

DURRËS, Albania: Albanian rescuers searched rubble through the night looking for survivors trapped in buildings that toppled Tuesday in the strongest earthquake to hit the country in decades, with more than 20 dead and hundreds injured.
Teams of soldiers, police and emergency workers sifted through the debris of shredded apartment blocks and hotels in towns near Albania’s northwest Adriatic coast, close to the epicenter of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that rattled the country before dawn.
By evening the toll was 22 dead, according to the defense ministry.
Most were pulled from wreckage in the coastal city of Durres and Thumane, a town north of the capital Tirana.
In neighboring Kurbin a man in his fifties died in the morning after jumping from his building in panic. Another perished in a car accident after the earthquake tore open parts of the road, the ministry said.
More than 40 people have also been retrieved alive in marathon rescue efforts that continued with headlamps and spotlights after the sun went down.
“The rescue teams will continue all night,” defense ministry spokeswoman Albana QeHajjaj told AFP.
“We must be careful because the night makes any operation more difficult,” she added.
Earlier in Thumane, locals watching emergency workers comb over a collapsed building shouted the names of their loved ones still inside: “Mira!,” “Ariela!,” “Selvije!.”
Dulejman Kolaveri, a man in his 50s in Thumane, told AFP he feared his 70-year-old mother and six-year-old niece were trapped inside the five-story apartment, because they lived on the top floor.
“I don’t know if they are dead or alive. I’m afraid of their fate... only God knows,” he said with trembling hands.
There were also brief bursts of joy during the day as rescuers delicately extracted survivors.
One thin, middle-aged man covered in a film of grey dust was seen being carried out of the rubble on a stretcher in Thumane.
In Durres, onlookers cheered “Bravo!” as a team used ropes to rescue a young man from the wreckage of a toppled seaside hotel in a two-hour operation.
Afraid to return home after a series of powerful aftershocks, hundreds of people in Durres took shelter for the night in tents set up in the city’s football stadium.
The health ministry said that more than 600 people have received first aid for injuries, mostly minor.
During a visit to victims in a hospital in Tirana, Prime Minister Edi Rama told local media that Wednesday would be a national “day of mourning.”
“We have lost human lives, we have also saved a lot of lives,” he said.
Some 300 local soldiers and 1,900 police were sent to Durres and Thumane to assist with the rescue efforts, according to authorities.
Aid also poured in from around Europe, with teams from Italy, Greece and Romania among those deployed to help.
Albania’s cities and coastline have undergone rapid development in recent decades, and illegal construction ignoring building codes is rife.
Tuesday’s quake was the strongest to hit the Durres region since 1926, seismologist Rrapo Ormeni told local television.
Albanian authorities described it as the most powerful in the last 20-30 years.
It struck at 3:54 am local time (0254 GMT), with an epicenter 34 kilometers (about 20 miles) northwest of Tirana, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center.
In Tirana, panicked residents ran out onto the streets and huddled together after the quake struck.
Several powerful aftershocks followed, including one of 5.3 magnitude.
The tremors were felt across the Balkans, from Sarajevo to Belgrade and the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad almost 700 kilometers away, according to reports in local media and on social networks.
The Balkan peninsula lies near the fault line of two large tectonic plates — the African and Eurasian — and earthquakes are frequent.
The movements of the small Adriatic micro-plate also produces earthquakes, according to Kresimir Kuk from the Croatian seismological institute.
The most devastating quake in recent times hit North Macedonia’s capital Skopje in July 1963, killing around a thousand people and destroying some 80 percent of the city.


South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

Updated 22 January 2020

South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

  • South Korea will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct

SEOUL: South Korea’s military said on Tuesday it plans to expand the deployment of an anti-piracy unit now operating off the coast of Africa to the area around the Strait of Hormuz, after the United States pressed for help in guarding oil tankers.
Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran last year prompted US officials to call for allies to join a planned maritime security mission.
While South Korea, a key US ally, will deploy its forces to the area, including the Gulf, it will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct, the defense ministry said.
“The South Korean government decided to temporarily expand the deployment of the Cheonghae military unit,” a ministry official told reporters, adding that the step would ensure the safety of citizens and free navigation of South Korean vessels.
The decision to divert the navy unit already operating southwest of Arabia is a political compromise that will not require fresh authorization by parliament ahead of an election in April.
The Cheonghae unit will continue with its mission while it cooperates with the coalition, the ministry said, adding that the United States had been briefed on the decision, which was also explained to the Iranians separately.
The United States welcomes and appreciates South Korea’s decision to expand the mission of its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz, William Coleman, spokesman for the US Embassy in Seoul, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“This decision is a demonstration of the strength of the US-ROK alliance and our commitment to cooperate on global security concerns.”
The Iranian embassy in Seoul had no comment on the matter.
The Strait of Hormuz is a busy passageway into the Gulf, with vessels sailing through it approximately 900 times a year for South Korea, which gets more than 70% of its oil from the Middle East, the defense ministry says.
Sending troops to the area has been a politically sensitive issue in South Korea ahead of the election.
A survey by pollster Realmeter last week showed 48.4% of South Koreans were opposed to dispatching soldiers to the Strait, while 40.3% supported the idea.
Tuesday’s move was broadly supported by lawmakers although some said it could risk Iran ties and the safety of South Koreans in the region. A number of progressive activist groups issued a statement criticizing the decision and said they will stage a protest in front of the president’s office on Wednesday.
The Cheonghae unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, working to tackle piracy in partnership with African countries as well as the United States and the European Union.
The 302-strong unit operates a 4,500-ton destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats, South Korea’s 2018 defense white paper showed.
Among its operations were the rescue of a South Korean ship and its crew in 2011, shooting eight suspected pirates and capturing five others in the incident.
The South Korean troops have also evacuated South Korean citizens from Libya and Yemen, and as of November 2018 had escorted around 18,750 South Korean and international vessels.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer and one of Iran’s major oil customers, stopped importing Iranian crude from May after waivers of US sanctions ended at the start of that month.