Aftershocks Rattle Albania, Leaving Residents on Edge

Residents remained on edge Thursday in the earthquake-stricken areas of Albania, as aftershocks continued to rattle the area.

Thursday afternoon, another 5.0-magnitude quake was registered near the city of Thumane just hours after authorities called off search-and-rescue operations in the area after recovering the bodies of the last people who had been reported missing.

The 6.4-magnitude temblor that struck Tuesday caused the most devastation in Thumane, where 23 people were killed, including seven from one family.

“God let us keep two (members of the family) but took seven from us,” survivor Sul Cara told VOA. “Now we are focused on paying our respects to the dead, as honor and tradition demands of us. We will try our best to show strength as we send off seven loved ones to burial. This is a heavy tragedy to bear, but at the same time we have found strength in the outpouring of support, not just from this town but from the whole country.”

Damnified sit at a makeshift camp in Durres, after an earthquake shook Albania, November 28, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga
Albanians sit at a makeshift camp in Durres, Nov. 28, 2019, after an earthquake shook Albania.

The death toll rose to 47 as search operations continued in other locations, but rescuers are increasingly pessimistic survivors will be found.

Residents in many neighborhoods remain in tents or have chosen to move in with relatives in other towns, as authorities warn that buildings remain unsafe.

Dangerous aftershocks

Albanians should heed the warnings, Stanford University geophysics professor Ross Stein told VOA’s Albanian Service.

Stein said that the days, even months after a major earthquake, aftershocks are a very serious threat.

“The risk of another large shock today is much higher than it was a few days ago before the 6.4 struck. The likelihood of a large aftershock is much higher than the likelihood of the same shock had there not been a main shock at all,” he said.

Stein, who has extensively studied seismic activity in the Balkans, said Tuesday’s earthquake was not a surprise from a geological point of view. He said Albania is “the most seismically active part of the Balkan region,” which has exhibited historically “larger and more frequent earthquakes even than Italy.”

The seismic activity is the reason for Albania’s natural beauty, he said.

“The reason why Albania is so beautiful is because it has this wonderful hill-valley topography and that is produced because the region is being compressed to the east and west. Think of a carpet and you’re a pushing a carpet across the floor and you’re producing folds,” Stein said.

A rescue dog searches for survivors in a collapsed building in Durres, after an earthquake shook Albania, November 28, 2019…
A rescue dog searches for survivors in a collapsed building in Durres, Nov. 28, 2019, after an earthquake shook Albania.

Quake preparation

But despite the area’s history of earthquakes, scientists can’t predict where and when the next one will strike.

The only possible thing people can do, he said, is have a good preparation strategy.

He said there is a need to prioritize earthquake protections, “and the region around Tirana and along the coast of Albania have the highest hazard and indicate to us, in a broad sense, this is where we need to focus our attention.”

Thursday marked Albania’s 107th independence anniversary. President Ilir Meta called on his countrymen to use the moment “to help heal the wounds caused by the earthquake.”