At least 20 people have been confirmed dead following a powerful earthquake in Albania, which brought down buildings in the capital Tirana and the port city of Durres.
The Defence Ministry released the updated death toll late Tuesday, while government agencies spoke of at least 600 injured, the TV Klan broadcaster reported.
Many people were still feared to be trapped under the rubble following the 6.4-magnitude earthquake, reported to be the country’s strongest in decades. The earth was felt shaking as far as north-west Greece, southern Serbia and in parts of southern Italy.
Police have deployed 1,900 officers in the search for missing persons.
There were at least a dozen confirmed deaths in Durres, where several buildings collapsed, among them an 18-floor skyscraper and two hotels.
Five bodies have been recovered so far in the smaller town of Thumana, just to the north of Durres. One person was killed in Kurbin after jumping from a high balcony in panic.
Rescue teams pulled 43 survivors from the rubble in the area, some of them children, Klan reported. Injuries have been reported as far away as Shkodra, near the border with Montenegro.
“The powerful earthquake which hit has caused serious consequences and unfortunately we have lost lives,” Prime Minister Edi Rama said.
“All structures of the state were put in place from the very first moments after the earthquake … and are working intensely to save every possible life in Durres and Thumana,” Rama tweeted.
Fabio Hasani, a resident of Tirana, said the tremor triggered panic when it struck at around 4 am (0300 GMT), with many people running into the street and remaining there for about an hour.
“I woke up confused, feeling my bed moving. Then I realized that everything was moving and shaking, the walls were creaking,” Hasani told dpa. “It shook for around a minute.”
The epicentre was about 10 kilometres deep and just north of Durres, about 25 kilometres west of Tirana, according to the US Geological Survey.
A second, 5.5-magnitude earthquake struck the same area just after 7 am.
Another major tremor, of magnitude 5.4, struck south-western Bosnia, near the border with Croatia and its historic city of Dubrovnik at around 10 am. Two people were reported injured in Mostar.
The ground in the region had not yet settled by late afternoon, as two more significant earthquakes, each of magnitude 3.0, hit near Durres around 4 pm.
Overall, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre reported more than 40 tremors, with epicentres under Albania, the Adriatic and in Bosnia.
Some damage was reported in southern Montenegro and south-western Bosnia, and tremors were felt across the Adriatic, in Italy, and throughout the Balkans.
The European Union and countries in the region offered condolences and assistance to Albania, a prospective EU member and part of NATO.
“We express our deep condolences to the people and the authorities of the country,” EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said.
The EU was to deploy a civil protection team to help the authorities coordinate the response and assess the damage.
Rama said that Germany, Kosovo, Serbia, Italy, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey have offered or sent emergency teams to assist.