The search for survivors of a deadly Albanian earthquake was called off on Saturday as eight family members, including four children, killed in the port of Durres were laid to rest.
The 6.4 magnitude quake that hit the Balkan country before dawn on Tuesday was the most deadly and destructive in decades.
The latest victim of the quake, that left about 5,000 people homeless, died in a hospital Saturday bringing the death toll to 51, the defence ministry said.
‘Rescue operations have ended,’ Prime Minister Edi Rama told a cabinet meeting while struggling to hold back tears as he read the victims' names.
Entire families were crushed in their homes while they were sleeping, forcing relatives and neighbours to watch in agony as rescue teams pulled bodies from the ruins this week.
The damage was the worst in Durres, on the Adriatic coast, and the nearby town of Thumane, where scores of people were trapped beneath the wreckage of apartment buildings and hotels.
- Cries break silence -
Among them were eight members of the Lala family, including four children, who were buried in Durres on Saturday.
Only one member of the family, Rame Lala, 19, survived when their four-storey home collapsed.
He sustained serious injures and was evacuated to Italy with two other victims for specialised care.
Rescuers on Thursday found the body of Marjeta Lala holding in her arms her three children -- aged between two and six years.
The body of her 10-year-old daughter was found nearby and the other Lala family victims included their grand-mother, her paralysed son and a niece.
Thousands of people paid respect to the victims passing by eight coffins put at display at a hall in the town's palace of culture.
Only cries of women, dressed in black, broke the silence in the hall where tiny white coffins of the children lay next to each other.
So they could be ‘always together,’ sobbed Esama, a woman close to the family.
‘A few books, a doll, a sweater, that we have found in the rubble, are the only memories we have,’ whispered Fatmira, in her 50s, choking in tears.
The woman lived near the Lala family in what she called a ‘cursed neighbourhood’.
In the 1990s many houses were built on marshy land there with no respect for construction rules, a widespread problem in Albania.
Visibly moved Rama and President Ilir Meta also attended the Lala family funeral.
‘It is impossible to find the words after this horrible tragedy,’ Meta told reporters.
Rama on Friday also attended the burials of nine people from two families who had died in Thumane.
- Chaotic construction -
About 900 people were injured in the earthquake, of whom 41 are still hospitalised, the authorities said.
Nearly 2,500 people from the worst-hit areas have been moved into hotels or other buildings.
Another 3,480 people in the capital Tirana, where there were no casualties, fled to shelters, with some now housed in reception centres and others staying in the homes of relatives, Rama said.
The prime minister on Saturday expressed ‘deep gratitude’ to rescue teams from Albania and around Europe who had pulled some 50 people from the ruins.
Towns in one of Europe's poorest countries, which has a population of 2.8 million people, developed chaotically after the fall of communism in the 1990s.
Experts say a lot of construction took place disregarding building codes and with cheaper materials.
‘A chaotic and completely arbitrary model of development collapsed under the rubble ... (and) turned into death traps, even for the ones who built them,’ Skender Minxhozi, a prominent local journalist, told AFP.
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