Balkan countries rush to help in Albanian earthquake

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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. In the initial hours after a deadly pre-dawn earthquake struck Albania, pancaking buildings and trapping dozens of sleeping people beneath the rubble, the countrys neighbors sprang into action. Offers of help flooded in from across Europe and beyond, with even traditional foes setting aside their differences in the face of the natural disaster. The 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck Albania on Tuesday killed at least 49 people, injured 2,000 and left at least 4,000 homeless (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

TIRANA – In the initial hours after a deadly pre-dawn earthquake struck Albania, pancaking buildings and trapping dozens of sleeping people beneath the rubble, the country’s neighbors sprang into action. Offers of help flooded in from across Europe and beyond, with even traditional foes setting aside their differences in the face of the natural disaster.

Soon, specialized rescue crews were arriving by the planeload. One of the most striking was a 13-person team from Serbia, a country with traditionally poor relations with Albania due to an ongoing dispute concerning Kosovo, a former province of Serbia whose ethnic Albanian majority took up arms to fight for independence.

The war ended after NATO bombed Belgrade and ties with neighboring Albania, which supported Kosovo’s independence, are still sometimes strained, although there have been recent efforts to improve them.

Serbian Patriarch Irinej, a hardliner when it comes to Kosovo, expressed condolences and said he was “deeply shaken over this tragic event.”

The 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck Albania on Tuesday killed at least 49 people, injured 2,000 and left at least 4,000 homeless. Every one of Albania’s neighbors sent specialized search-and-rescue crews to comb through the rubble — Italy, Greece, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo — as did Serbia, Turkey, Romania, France, Croatia, Israel, Switzerland and the European Union’s civil emergency unit. Even more countries flew in emergency supplies, while one of the injured — a 54-year-old man with severe spinal injuries — was being flown to Italy for treatment.

Rescuers from Balkan countries that fought bitter wars against each other little over 20 years ago during the disintegration of Yugoslavia found themselves united in the common aim of saving lives.

“Trouble knows no boundaries,” Radomir Scepanovic, a Montenegrin rescuer, told regional channel N1 TV, adding that there were 12 international teams from Europe and the Balkans with 600 rescuers in Albania to help.

It is sometimes the indiscriminate power and destruction of natural disasters that brings nations together. One notable example was when Greece and Turkey rushed to each other’s aid after devastating earthquakes struck each less than a month apart in 1999.