Earthquake rescue teams in Albania clung to hope Thursday of finding missing people in "survival pockets" rubble, as the death toll rose to 46 with some entire families found dead beneath their crumbled homes.

The 6.4 magnitude quake, the deadliest in decades, tore down buildings near the Adriatic coast while people were sleeping just before 4am (0300 GMT) on Tuesday.

Experts from around Europe have arrived to help shovel away slabs of collapsed apartments and search beneath the wreckage with dogs and specialised cameras. 

In the hard-hit coastal city of Durres, Italian rescue workers on Thursday unearthed the corpses of a mother and three children lying in a bed together beneath the ruins of their flattened home, a witness at the scene told AFP. 

Only one member of the Lala family who lived there, a young man rescued on Tuesday, has been pulled out alive. 

Four other relatives were earlier found dead at the site of the shattered four-storey building.

Nearby on the perimeter of a toppled beach-side hotel, a distraught relative fainted in the afternoon as he watched rescue workers carry out a man's body in a yellow bag. 

Yet tireless rescuers kept hopes alive for survival stories. 

"There may be hope for up to eight or ten days" for victims to live after an earthquake, Captain Joel Leroy, a French rescuer, told AFP.

His team of around 50 was trying to track down those believed to be trapped inside a seven-storey building in Durres whose first two floors had collapsed into the ground. 

Victims may still be alive in "survival pockets" of air that allow them to breathe under the rubble, he said. "That's why we are working so hard, we believe in it."

Outside the building a bleary-eyed young man begged to see the body of his mother who was found dead inside. At the time, rescuers said it was too dangerous to extract her body. 

50 survivors

Search efforts have ceased in the other badly damaged town of Thumane, where the defence ministry said no more were missing after more than 20 bodies were pulled out over the last three days.

Loved ones have watched in horror over the past few days as rescuers unearthed corpses covered in a grey film of dust, many of them family members still wearing their pyjamas. 

During the night, emergency workers in Durres uncovered the bodies of a mother and son from the Reci family, who were found in an embrace.

The rest of the Reci family also perished in the quake, with the bodies of a father and daughter pulled out the day before, according to Ilir Duka, an Albanian rescuer.

Some 50 survivors have been rescued from the rubble, mostly on the first day.

The number of people who may still be buried is unknown.

Emergency workers, including teams from neighbouring Serbia and Kosovo, have been working in perilous conditions as hundreds of aftershocks rattle buildings, interrupting the efforts. 

"It's a difficult operation, but that's why we're here, we've been doing this for a long time," said Italian rescuer Michele Melosi, standing with the team's white-and-brown sniffer dog Folio. 

"Hope dies last," he said, recalling how survivors were found after four days in the 2009 earthquake in the Italian city L'Aquila.

Moved to hotels

Thousands of people have been displaced, either because their homes were severely damaged or because they were still unsafe due to the continuing aftershocks.

On Wednesday night authorities in Durres moved those who had been sleeping in tents to hotels and a sports centre.

Prime Minister Edi Rama has promised to rehouse the newly homeless by next year.

Illegal construction is rife in Albania, one of Europe's poorest countries.

Chaotic development exploded after the fall of communism in 1990 and many buildings lack proper permits. 

The earthquake was the deadliest in several decades in Albania, which lies near a tectonic fault line. 

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