Strong earthquake in Albania damages buildings and sends residents fleeing

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Falling debris pulverised parked cars in Tirana

Falling debris pulverised parked cars in Tirana (AFP Photo/Gent SHKULLAKU)

Tirana (AFP) - Albania was rattled by its strongest earthquake in decades Saturday, officials said, sending people fleeing into the streets in several cities, damaging buildings and triggering power cuts in the capital.

The epicentre of the shallow 5.6-magnitude quake, was near Durres, less than 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of the capital Tirana, according to the US Geological Survey.

Albania's defence ministry said it was the "strongest earthquake in the country in the last 20 to 30 years".

"There are no deaths," defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qajaj said.

Some 80 people sought medical help in both Tirana and Durres, 21 of whom were hospitalised due to injuries caused by falling objects or parts of walls as well as for panic attacks, Health Minister Ogerta Manasterilu said.

Qajaj told AFP that houses and buildings in Tirana had been damaged but were still standing and that the ministry was accessing damage in other towns and villages.

Prime Minister Edi Rama cancelled his scheduled trip to the United States following the quake, which cut electricity and telephone lines in Tirana and a number of other towns and villages.

Many people remained outside their homes for several hours in the capital, fearful of aftershocks.

"I fear to return because such a strong earthquake could be followed with others," Drita Lohja, a resident in her fifties, told AFP.

Falling debris pulverised parked cars in parts of the city.

AFP reporters and witnesses saw windows broken and deep fissures in the facades of buildings in Durres, as well as in the capital.

Media reported that a large building in Tirana was seriously damaged and that residents were being evacuated.

A University of Tirana building was also damaged, witnesses said.

According to local media reports, at least two people were lightly injured and a dozen houses collapsed in the village of Helmes, 10 kilometres from Tirana.

Two other earthquakes followed the strong one that occurred at around 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) and was felt in neighbouring Montenegro and Italy, but also on the Greek island of Corfu according to some Twitter users.