Durrks, Albania: Albanian rescuers searched rubble through the night looking for survivors trapped in buildings that toppled Tuesday in the strongest earthquake to hit the country in decades, with more than 20 dead and hundreds injured.

Teams of soldiers, police and emergency workers sifted through the debris of shredded apartment blocks and hotels in towns near Albania’s northwest Adriatic coast, close to the epicentre of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that rattled the country before dawn.

By evening the toll was 22 dead, according to the defence ministry.

Most were pulled from wreckage in the coastal city of Durres and Thumane, a town north of the capital Tirana.

In neighbouring Kurbin a man in his fifties died in the morning after jumping from his building in panic. Another perished in a car accident after the earthquake tore open parts of the road, the ministry said.

More than 40 people have also been retrieved alive in marathon rescue efforts that continued with headlamps and spotlights after the sun went down.

“The rescue teams will continue all night,” defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qehajaj told AFP.

“We must be careful because the night makes any operation more difficult,” she added.

Earlier in Thumane, locals watching emergency workers comb over a collapsed building shouted the names of their loved ones still inside: “Mira!”, “Ariela!”, “Selvije!”.

Dulejman Kolaveri, a man in his 50s in Thumane, told AFP he feared his 70-year-old mother and six-year-old niece were trapped inside the five-storey apartment, because they lived on the top floor.

“I don’t know if they are dead or alive. I’m afraid of their fate… only God knows,” he said with trembling hands.

There were also brief bursts of joy during the day as rescuers delicately extracted survivors.

One thin, middle-aged man covered in a film of grey dust was seen being carried out of the rubble on a stretcher in Thumane.

In Durres, onlookers cheered “Bravo!” as a team used ropes to rescue a young man from the wreckage of a toppled seaside hotel in a two-hour operation. AFP