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Athens settles for uneasy night after 5.1-magnitude quake

A government spokesman later Friday said “life in Athens is back to normal”.

 Fallen rocks block part of a road following an earthquake in Athens, Greece, on July 19.
Fallen rocks block part of a road following an earthquake in Athens, Greece, on July 19.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

THE PEOPLE OF Athens settled in for an uneasy night after a strong 5.1-magnitude earthquake temporarily knocked out phone connections, damaged buildings and caused power outages.

Noting that many people were likely afraid to sleep indoors, citizen’s protection minister Michalis Chrysohoidis said additional police would be deployed and remain on standby for the entire weekend.

“We are here next to you, we will not leave, we will not sleep until all danger has receded…we will overcome this together,” Chrysochoidis said in a televised statement.

The quake struck at 1113 GMT northwest of Athens, close to where a 5.9-magnitude quake in September 1999 left 143 people dead in and around the capital.

State TV ERT reported that at least four people were slightly hurt — including a pregnant tourist and a young boy — and at least two abandoned buildings in the capital collapsed, while several more suffered damage.

Traffic jams were caused in parts of the capital where power cuts knocked out traffic lights.

“It was a very intense quake, we were terrified, everyone started coming out (of the building),” a young woman named Katerina told AFP outside the six-storey cosmetics store where she works.

A government spokesman later Friday said “life in Athens is back to normal”.

Friday’s emergency was the second in just over a week for the new conservative administration of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who took office after a July 7 election.

In the city centre, the marble cupola cross of a historic 19th century church came loose and shattered onto the street below.

Another central Athens church had its cupola cross snapped by the tremor, and a disused cargo conveyor belt at the port of Piraeus collapsed, TV footage showed.

And a Byzantine-era monastery on the outskirts of Athens was also damaged, the culture ministry said.

‘Like an explosion’

The culture ministry said the pregnant tourist was visiting the National Archaeological Museum and was struck by another visitor rushing for the exit. 

She was hospitalised as a precaution, the ministry said.

The boy was struck by a falling chimney, ERT said.

News channels broadcast images sent in by viewers which also showed parked cars in central Athens damaged by fallen masonry.

Cracks also appeared in some walls in Greece’s 170-year-old parliament building.

“It was more like an explosion,” another woman told ERT on the city’s central Syntagma Square.

“We were all very afraid, so we’ll stay here for a couple of hours.”

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on television that phone networks had become “overcharged” by the sheer number of users calling to check up on friends and family.

SKAI TV said there were 20,000 calls per second, more than on New Year’s Eve.

The fire department rescued 30 people trapped in elevators in the capital, the citizen’s protection minister said.

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