By Benet Koleka
DURRES, Albania (Reuters) – Search teams pulled the bodies of a mother, her two-year-old twins and seven-year-old son from the rubble of a house in the western Albanian town of Durres on Thursday, as the death toll from the country’s worst ever quake climbed to 46.
European and Albanian search teams also pulled a dead body from the rubble of a hotel along Durres’s beach on the Adriatic Sea as they continued looking for survivors of Tuesday’s magnitude 6.4 tremor.
There have been more than 500 aftershocks since then, some with a magnitude of more than 5.0, rocking buildings and terrifying residents.
Albania, which marked the 107th anniversary of its independence on Thursday, has not experienced a deadly earthquake since 40 died in a tremor in 1979, and the country is poorly prepared for such disasters.
Italy, Greece, Romania and others have sent search teams to look for survivors.
Under the collapsed four-storey house of Berti Lala, 40, an Italian team found the bodies of his wife, twins and one older son, crushed under a collapsed ceiling as they huddled together in bed.
Lala’s paralyzed older brother remains trapped under the building, built on reclaimed marshland in Durres, the country’s main port. His other daughter of eight, 79-year-old mother and one niece have all been confirmed killed in the disaster.
But his 17-year-old nephew was rescued alive on Tuesday, apparently saved by a washing machine that moved as the building shook, blocking his path but providing him with enough space to shelter in.
Italian rescuers worked overnight and into Thursday evening drilling away chunks of concrete at the house, while Albanian soldiers shoveled away the debris.
In the northern town of Thumane, where 22 people died, searches were halted after the bodies of all those unaccounted for were found, including those of a mother and daughter found embracing each other under the rubble of a five-storey building.
The quake, centered 30 km (19 miles) west of the capital Tirana, was felt across the Balkans and in the southern Italian region of Puglia across the Adriatic Sea.
Some 45 people have been found alive, while a handful of the 650 injured are in serious condition.
Prime Minister Edi Rama’s government has declared a state of emergency for 30 days in Durres and Thumane. The cash-strapped government has appealed to the public for donations of money instead of goods.
Recognized appeals set up on GoFundMe have raised more than $2 million, a spokeswoman told Reuters.
“We have seen 904 campaigns created across Europe, Australia and north America, raising just under $2.2 million. We expect that to reach $2.5 million today,” said Elisa Liberatori Finocchiaro, GoFundMe’s senior regional manager for Southern Europe said.
Police arrested one man for setting up what appeared to be a fake relief account after the earthquake.
With festivities for Albania’s independence day canceled, Interior Minister Sander LLeshaj distributed a photo of a rescue worker displaying a flag found under the ruins in Thumane shortly before midnight.
“For a few moments, it stopped the pain of mourning and brought back the light of hope,” he said on Facebook.
(Reporting by Benet Kolek; Editing by Ivana Sekularac, Peter Graff and Hugh Lawson)