Strong earthquake rocks Greek capital of Athens; buildings seriously damaged

International

Athens, Greece (CBS NEWS)– A strong earthquake hit Friday near the Greek capital of Athens, causing residents to run into the streets in fear and firefighters to check for people trapped in elevators. The Athens Institute of Geodynamics gave the earthquake a preliminary magnitude of 5.1 but the U.S. Geological Survey gave it a preliminary magnitude of 5.3.  The Athens Institute says the quake struck at 2:13 p.m. local time about 13.7 miles north of Athens.

The quake sparked limited power cuts and communication problems around Athens and the fire brigade reported receiving calls about people being trapped in elevators. The shock was caught live in the studios of state broadcaster ERT.

Authorities inspected areas close to the epicenter by helicopter and police patrols but no deaths or serious injuries were reported. Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said one abandoned building had collapsed in a western district of Athens and that several other abandoned buildings had suffered serious damages in other parts of the city.

“There are no reports of serious injuries … I urge members of the public to remains calm, in Greece we are well acquainted with earthquakes,” he said.

The most powerful quake to hit the Greek capital in the last 20 years came in 1999, when a temblor of magnitude 6.0 caused extensive damage and killed more than 140 people.

Gerasimos Papadopoulos, the senior seismologist at the Geodynamics Institute said Friday’s quake was felt across southern Greece.

“It had a very shallow depth and that’s why it was felt so strongly,” he said. “It is too early to say whether this was the main earthquake, but there have been aftershocks of magnitude 3.5, 2.5 and 3.2 and that is encouraging. But we need more time and data to have a clear picture.”

Earthquakes are common in Greece and neighboring Turkey.

The head of the anti-quake protection agency, Efthymios Lekkas, told Greeks to remain calm, BBC News reported. “There is no reason for concern. The capital’s buildings are built to withstand a much stronger earthquake,” he said.  

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