A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Albania early on Tuesday, the largest to hit the country in decades, leaving at least 16 people dead, several missing and more than 600 injured, officials said.
The earthquake hit just before 4 a.m. as most people were sleeping. Its epicenter was about 19 miles west of the capital of Tirana, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The strong tremor was felt across the Adriatic Sea in Italy where some residents in the region of Puglia fled into the streets after it struck. Italy, Greece and Kosovo sent civil protection teams with earthquake response experience and equipment to the region to assist in recovery.
At least three apartment blocks collapsed in Durres, according to civil protection agencies working on the scene. Video from the recovery effort shows widespread damage. Rescuers are using sniffer dogs and heavy equipment to remove rubble. Authorities warn the death toll could rise.
One person died in the town of Kurbin after jumping out of a building in panic, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman told Reuters. Several others were killed when a building collapsed in Durres, 20 miles west of Tirana, emergency officials said. The Associated Press reports that rescuers were working to remove other people trapped in the building.
The quake caused multiple buildings to collapse throughout the country, including some in outlying areas authorities that have not yet reached. Two government spokesmen confirmed to Reuters that the most damage to buildings was in Durres, but that many people had been taken to a hospital in Tirana.
Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter: “We have victims. We are working to do everything possible in the affected areas.”
Several smaller quakes were recorded before the main earthquake, which was felt along the Albanian coast and as far as the southern Italian region of Puglia. Several strong aftershocks over 5.0 in magnitude continued to rock the region into Tuesday, causing many buildings damaged in the first quake to fall.
A 5.6 magnitude earthquake shook the country on Sept. 21, damaging about 500 houses. The Defense Ministry previously said the September quake was the most powerful in the past 30 years.