IDF sends aid mission to earthquake-stricken Albania
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IDF sends aid mission to earthquake-stricken Albania

Team of reservists and regular soldiers will join international efforts with a focus on surveying buildings to find whether they remain structurally sound after the quake

Illustrative: IDF soldiers search for survivors in a building that collapsed during an earthquake that struck Mexico on September 24, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: IDF soldiers search for survivors in a building that collapsed during an earthquake that struck Mexico on September 24, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces announced early Tuesday that it had dispatched an aid mission to earthquake-stricken Albania after a devastating temblor last month killed 51 people and destroyed thousands of buildings.

“We just dispatched an IDF humanitarian aid delegation to Albania following the devastating earthquake that took 50+ lives and left thousands injured,” the army tweeted.

The IDF said the team, consisting of 10 regular and reserve troops will focus on surveying buildings to find whether they remained structurally sound after the quake.

The team, led by the army’s Home Front Command and assisted by the Foreign Ministry would also advise local authorities on how to manage the disaster, the army said.

The IDF has a long history of participating in internationals 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.

The IDF team will join with dozens of structural engineers from Europe and elsewhere are heading to Albania to help rebuild the country, officials said Monday.

In this photo taken on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, rescuers from France and Switzerland operate at a collapsed building after the 6.4-magnitude earthquake in Durres, western Albania (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

Israel has close relations with Albania, a Muslim-majority nation in southern Europe since diplomatic relations were formally established in 1991.

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 US Agency for International Development also has deployed structural engineers from the Fairfax County and Los Angeles County fire departments to assist with damage assessments.

Police officers seal an entrance to a apartment building in the town of Durres, western Albania, Nov 30, 2019 (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

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.

US 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.

US singer and songwriter Bebe Rexha visits a damaged house in Bubq village about 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of Tirana, Albania, Dec. 2, 2019 (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)

“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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