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 arrived in 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, Albanian 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.”
In a video, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared on Twitter, Rama thanked Netanyahu for the support, while standing alongside the Israeli team in Durres.
“Bibi, shalom from Durres. We’re here with your fantastic guys. They are doing a great job in calming the people and telling them how to be resilient,” Rama said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.
Netanyahu responded, saying, “Thank you for your warm words, my friend.”
“Israel stands with Albania in this difficult hour,” Netanyahu wrote.
תודה רבה על המילים החמות ידידי, ראש ממשלת אלבניה אדי רמה.
ישראל גאה לעמוד לצידה של אלבניה בשעה קשה זו. ????????????????
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) December 9, 2019
The Israel Defense Forces said the team consists of 10 regular and reserve troops, led by the army’s Home Front Command and assisted by the Foreign Ministry.
The IDF has a long history of participating in international aid efforts following earthquakes and natural disasters, most recently sending large teams to assist Mexico, following a devastating 2017 quake, and Brazil, after the Minais Gerais dam collapse.
Israel has had close relations with Albania, a Muslim-majority nation in southern Europe, since diplomatic relations were formally established in 1991.
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 November 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 have already been demolished.
School resumed on Monday in Durres and in the capital, Tirana, but more than 10,000 children had to be moved to schools in other locations.
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 another 7 billion leks have been collected from donations.
Tirana has pledged to complete reconstruction of the quake-hit areas within 2020.