A strong earthquake struck Friday in the Aegean Sea between the Turkish coast and the Greek island of Samos, killing at least 14 people and injuring over 500 amid collapsed buildings and flooding, officials said.
A small tsunami struck the Seferihisar district south of Izmir, the city in western Turkey that was the worst affected, said Haluk Ozener, director of the Istanbul-based Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute.
At least 12 people were killed in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, including one who drowned, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD.
Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum said 522 people were injured, with five undergoing surgery and eight in intensive care.
On Samos, where a tsunami warning was issued, two teenagers died after being struck by a wall that collapsed. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted condolences, saying “Words are too poor to describe what one feels before the loss of children.” Another eight people were reportedly treated at the local hospital for light injuries.
At least 19 people were injured in Samos, with two including a 14-year-old being airlifted to Athens and seven hospitalized on the island, health authorities said.
The small tsunami that hit the Turkish coast also affected Samos, with seawater flooding streets in the main harbour town of Vathi. Authorities warned people to stay away from the coast and from potentially damaged buildings.
Searches at several Izmir buildings
Izmir Gov. Yavuz Selim Kosger said at least 70 people had been rescued from the wreckage. He said four buildings were destroyed and more than 10 collapsed, while others also were damaged.
Search and rescue efforts were continuing in at least 17 buildings, AFAD said.
Turkish media showed wreckage of a multiple-storey building, with people climbing it to start rescue efforts. Smoke rose from several spots.
The earthquake, which the Kandilli institute said had a magnitude of 6.9, struck at 2:51 p.m. local time in Turkey and was centred in the Aegean northeast of Samos at a depth of 16.5 kilometres.
Turkish media said the earthquake was felt across the regions of Aegean and Marmara, including Istanbul. Istanbul’s governor said there were no reports of damage in the city, Turkey’s largest.
Turkey sits on top of two major fault lines, and earthquakes are frequent. Dozens were killed in an earthquake in January, mostly in Elazig province. Two strong earthquakes struck northwest Turkey in 1999, killing around 18,000 people.
Leaders break from recent tensions
The quake was felt across the eastern Greek islands and even in the Greek capital Athens. Greek media said the residents of Samos and other islands fled their homes, while some rockfalls were reported. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The quake was also felt in Bulgaria.
Greek seismologist Akis Tselentis told Greek state broadcaster ERT that due to the shallow depth of its epicentre — roughly 10 kilometres — potentially powerful aftershocks could be expected for several weeks.
He said residents of affected areas must be careful not to enter buildings that might have been damaged in the initial quake, as they could collapse in a strong aftershock.
The Greek minister responsible for civil protection and crisis management, Nikos Hardalias, headed to Samos, as were a search and rescue team, paramedics and engineers.
NATO’s secretary general:
I am deeply saddened by the reports from the earthquake in the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Aegean?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Aegean</a>. My thoughts go to all those affected. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/NATO?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#NATO</a> stands ready to help our Allies Greece and Turkey.
In a show of solidarity rare in recent months of tense bilateral relations, Greek and Turkish government officials issued mutual messages of solidarity.
“We pray that there is no further loss of [life] in Turkey or Greece and we send our best wishes to all those affected on both sides of the earthquake,” Turkey’s communications director Fahrettin Altun tweeted. “This tragedy reminds us once again how close we are despite our differences over policy. We’re ready to help if Greece needs it.”
Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, tweeted that he had phoned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “to offer my condolences for the tragic loss of life from the earthquake that struck both our countries. Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together.”
Speaking Friday evening, Erdogan thanked Mitsotakis for his call and offer of help. He said Turkey was not currently in need but reciprocated by saying, “We stand by Greece.” He also thanked other countries for their offers of aid.
Relations between Turkey and Greece have been particularly tense, with warships from both facing off in the eastern Mediterranean in a dispute over maritime boundaries and energy exploration rights. The ongoing tension has led to fears of open conflict between the two neighbours and NATO allies.