TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The European Union and the United Nations are coordinating the international efforts to assist Albania after the 6.4-magnitude earthquake that killed 51 people and left thousands homeless.
Luigi Soreca, EU ambassador to Albania, said Monday that Brussels mobilized the Civil Protection Mechanism on the day of earthquake, Nov. 26, with many search-and-rescue teams arriving in the country.
Albania’s defense minister, Olta Xhacka, said 780 rescuers from EU and other countries helped “not to have more lives lost.”
An EU team is leading the damage assessment and distribution of aid. Six EU member states have sent 50 structural engineers, with more to come, to assess the damage together with the local counterparts.
“In the midst of sorrow, grief and fear, this week has shown the unfailing links between Albanians and their friends in the EU,” Soreca said.
The U.S. Agency for International Development also has deployed structural engineers from the Fairfax County and Los Angeles County fire departments to assist with damage assessments.
The quake that hit Albania’s Adriatic coast also injured more than 3,000 people. Authorities give preliminary figures of 7,900 damaged buildings countrywide and more than 6,000 homeless sheltered in hotels, public buildings, tents and with relatives, while neighboring Kosovo has provided shelter to others.
The quake has affected about 1.9 million people out of the country’s 2.8 million population, according to the EU office in Tirana.
The worst-hit areas were the port town of Durres, a popular beach vacation spot for Albanians 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital, Tirana, and the nearby northern town of Thumane.
Prosecutors have started an investigation into possible illegal construction and violations of construction regulations.
Poor construction, building code violations and corruption are considered among the main reasons for the quake damage.
Albania’s government has called on the international community for financial aid and expert assistance, saying it is incapable of doing it alone.
“The hardest part of this situation starts now because the material damage is really great,” said Xhacka before leaving for the NATO summit in London where Albania will also look for help.
Soreca said that in a third phase, Brussels will look into how it will help Albania rebuild itself with a mid- to long-term perspective.
On Thursday, the new European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarcic, who started his post Monday, visits Tirana to talk about the reconstruction planning.