Strong earthquake damages dozens of buildings in Greece

Damasi (Greece) (AFP) –


A strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit central Greece on Wednesday, damaging dozens of buildings, prompting narrow escapes and causing crowds to rush into the streets, though officials said no injuries or deaths were reported.

"The first estimate is 100 damaged buildings. We have no reports on injuries," Costas Agorastos, regional governor for the broader Thessaly region, told AFP in the village of Damasi, near the epicentre of the quake.

There were several tales of narrow escapes in the area -- including an elderly disabled man who was rescued from his collapsed house in the nearby village of Mesochori, and children in Damasi who hid beneath their desks as their school shook, then walked out.

"Fortunately, the teachers managed to get the children out very quickly and there were no victims," the mayor of the nearby city of Tyrnavos Yiannis Kokkouras told Skai TV.

Across the street from the school, the roof was most of what remained from a stone house whose front walls spilled onto the street. A chandelier was left hanging from the wood rafters.

Several aftershocks were reported after the main quake hit midday near the central city of Larissa, sparking panic in the area rarely hit by serious earthquakes.

"Luckily I was working in the fields. I would not be alive otherwise," Thanos Mavrakis, a 39-year-old farmer, told AFP in Damasi.

"It was very scary," he said, gazing at his damaged stone house.

Agorastos said tents would be set up at the Damasi sports stadium for people whose homes were damaged.

The civil protection authority also reported landslides in the region, and authorities were assessing further damage, while a helicopter was overflying the area in search of people in need.

The clock tower of a church in Damasi caved in, and police sealed off a bridge leading to the village that was cracked by the quake, local media reported.

The US Geological Survey said the 12:16 pm (1016 GMT) earthquake, which was felt across mainland Greece, was magnitude 6.3.

But the Institute of Geodynamics in Athens said earlier the quake had measured at a magnitude of 6.0.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias to convey solidarity and said Ankara was ready to offer support if needed.

Relations between regional rivals Greece and Turkey markedly improved in 1999 when both countries were struck by deadly earthquakes less than a month apart.

Last year, the countries also cooperated on recovery efforts after a strong earthquake struck in the Aegean Sea, killing scores and causing vast damage mainly in Turkey.

- Aftershocks warning -

According to the Athens observatory, the epicentre of the quake was 16 kilometres (10 miles) south of the town of Elassona and was eight kilometres deep.

There were several aftershocks following the main tremor -- including one at magnitude 5.7 -- after authorities issued a warning.

"I believe the worst has been avoided," Efthymios Lekkas, head of Greece's quake protection authority, told state TV ERT.

"The aftershocks will continue for quite some time, (but) they will be smaller and less frequent," he said.

Experts stressed that fault lines in the area rarely produce tremors larger than the one clocked on Wednesday.

The last major earthquake in the area was in the 18th century and was magnitude 6.2, Manolis Skordilis, a seismologist at Thessaloniki's Aristotle University, told state agency ANA.

Greece is located on a number of fault lines, and is sporadically hit by earthquakes.

But the quakes often happen at sea and do not often kill people or cause extensive damage.

The last fatal earthquake was in October, when a magnitude 7.0 hit in the Aegean Sea between the Greek island of Samos and the city of Izmir in western Turkey.

In Greece, two teenagers were reported dead on the island of Samos.