EU leads international help to Albania quake recovery

In this Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019 photo, laundry hangs on a line from a damaged building in Thumane, western Albania following a deadly earthquake. A handbag dangles from a coat-hanger, gleaming saucepans sit stacked in a kitchen cabinet, sheets and duvets lie neatly folded in a bedroom cupboard. All scenes of ordinary domesticity, except for one detail: the rest of the homes these ordinary items were part of have vanished, crumpling in the devastating force of an earthquake that struck Albania earlier this week.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Dozens of structural engineers from Europe and elsewhere are heading to Albania to help rebuild the country after a devastating earthquake last month killed 51 people and destroyed thousands of buildings, officials said Monday.

The European Union and the United Nations are coordinating international efforts to assist Albania after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Nov. 26, affecting more than half of the country’s population.

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,” said Luigi Soreca, the EU ambassador to Albania.

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.

Albanian Defense Minister Olta Xhacka praised the international response so far, saying the 780 rescuers who rushed to the country right after the quake helped to prevent more deaths.

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 the capital of Tirana.

The worst-hit areas were the port town of Durres, a popular beach vacation spot for Albanians 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of Tirana and the nearby northern town of Thumane.

U.S. singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha visited Bubq village, 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of the capital Tirana, to hand over aid.

Rexha, who is of ethnic Albanian origin, said she raised money through her fans to build two homes and is hoping to raise more.

“It’s really sad what’s happening here. That’s why I came here,” she said.

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 Monday that 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.

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Llazar Semini is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lsemini

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