At least 47 victims were rescued alive, officials said, but the number of people who may still be buried amid rubble remains unknown.

Turkish rescuers search a collapsed building in Durres, western Albania. November 28, 2019.
Turkish rescuers search a collapsed building in Durres, western Albania. November 28, 2019. (Visar Kryeziu / AP)

The death toll from the most powerful earthquake to strike Albania in decades rose to 40 on Thursday, the defence ministry said, after more bodies were pulled from the wreckage overnight in a tragedy that has wiped out entire families.

Forty people have been found dead and at least 47 people have been rescued alive, the defence ministry said on Thursday.

The survivors have been hospitalised and are "in a state of shock and worried about their loved ones," said the ministry spokeswoman.

The number of people who may still be buried in the rubble is unknown.

Search efforts ceased in Thumane

The 6.4-magnitude earthquake rattled the Balkan state while people were sleeping just before 0300 GMT on Tuesday, razing buildings and trapping victims beneath the debris in towns near the Adriatic coast. 

Search efforts ceased on Thursday in the other hard-hit town of Thumane, where the defence ministry said no more bodies were to be found after more than 20 were pulled out.

Rescue teams were still shovelling away massive chunks of collapsed apartments and hotels in the coastal city of Durres, where nearly 30 buildings were badly damaged.

During the night, emergency workers uncovered the bodies of a mother and son from the Reci family, found in an embrace.

They were crushed by the weight of a collapsed six-storey building in Durres.

The whole family has now perished in the quake, with the bodies of the father and daughter pulled out the day before, according to Ilir Duka, an Albanian rescuer at the scene.

Similar tragedies have befallen other families as the pre-dawn earthquake tore down their buildings.

Loved ones have watched on in horror as rescuers pulled out bodies covered in a grey film of dust, many in their pyjamas.

On Tuesday, a woman was heard crying out from inside a wrecked building, where she was stuck inside with a dead child. She was eventually rescued but later died in hospital.

PM Rama vows to help those left homeless 

Rescuers, helped by teams from across Europe, have been working in perilous conditions as hundreds of aftershocks shake buildings, interrupting search efforts.

Among some 650 hurt, at least 10 have serious injuries, the health ministry said.

Thousands have also been displaced, either because their homes were severely damaged or still unsafe because of the continuing aftershocks.

On Wednesday night, authorities in Durres moved those who had been sleeping in tents to hotels and a sports centre.

Prime Minister Edi Rama has promised to rehouse the newly homeless by next year.

Common quakes

Illegal construction is rife in Albania, one of Europe's poorest countries.

Many buildings lack proper permits and do not adhere to safety codes.

The earthquake was the deadliest in several decades in Albania, which lies near a tectonic fault line.

Earthquakes are relatively common in the Balkans because of the movements of two large tectonic plates, the African and Eurasian, and the smaller Adriatic micro-plate.

Source: AFP