Intl' engineers help Albania check quake-damaged buildings

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's prime minister on Monday hailed the work of Israeli engineers who have come to the country to help in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that destroyed thousands of buildings.

The Israelis are among scores of foreign engineers and experts who have come or will be headed to the country to help determine whether buildings left standing can still be inhabited or to help construct buildings to replace those that were destroyed.

On Monday, Prime Minister Edi Rama was in the western port city of Durres, encouraging residents to have confidence in the work of the engineers. Durres and northwestern Thumane were the two areas hardest-hit by the quake.

“They are from Israel and they are No. 1,” Rama said to a resident who was hesitant to enter an apartment building. “The engineer says that after the catastrophe you should kiss your home because it has resisted (the quake) and has protected you."

On Sunday, Rama was in Istanbul to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish and Arab businessmen to solicit help. Turkish engineers are already in Albania to prepare for construction of 500 homes. Other countries sending engineers include Greece, Italy, the United States, France, Bulgaria, and Romania.

The 6.4-magnitude earthquake on Nov. 26 killed 51 people and injured more than 3,000 others. More than 11,000 buildings were damaged and an estimated 13,000 people made homeless. Many have found shelter in hotels, public buildings, tents, with relatives or in neighboring Kosovo.

The government said Monday that out of some 6,000 buildings checked with scores of structural engineers, some 2,450 could not be used for living or working and 460 had to be demolished. Forty-three buildings already have been demolished.

Schools resumed in Durres and in the capital, Tirana, on Monday but more than 10,000 children had to be moved to other schools.

The European Union is assisting Albania to assess damages and reconstruction needs and the European Commission had already sent 15 million euros ($16.6 million) as a start.

Albania has called for international financial assistance for reconstruction.

The government has set 13 billion leks ($117 million) for reconstruction, while other 7 billion leks have been collected from donations.

Tirana has pledged to complete reconstruction of the quake-hit areas within 2020.