A strong earthquake struck Friday in the Aegean Sea between the Turkish coast and the Greek island of Samos, killing at least 19 people and injuring over 700 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 17 people were killed in Izmir — Turkey’s third-largest city — including one who drowned, and 709 were injured, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD.
Among the dead were the wife and two children of the secretary-general of the Turkish Medical Association’s Izmir branch, the group said.
On Samos, 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.”
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 tsunami 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.
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 rescuers pulling people from the rubble, including one survivor who was found about six hours after the quake. Emergency teams continued digging after nightfall and cranes lifted concrete slabs from the wreckage.
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. AFAD said it measured the magnitude at 6.6.
It was felt across the eastern Greek islands and even in the Greek capital, Athens, and in Bulgaria. In Turkey, it shook the regions of Aegean and Marmara, including Istanbul. Istanbul’s governor said there were no reports of damage in the city, Turkey’s largest.
Video on Twitter showed flooding in the Seferihisar district, and Turkish officials and broadcasters called on people to stay off the streets after reports of traffic congestion. Izmir Mayor Tunc Soyer urged residents to not enter damaged buildings and to be mindful of physical distancing and mask mandates amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clouds of dust or smoke rose from several spots as buildings collapsed in the quake.
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 and warned that buildings could collapse in a strong aftershock.
The Turkish government and cities like Istanbul sent more than 3,000 rescue personnel to Izmir, as well as relief supplies. The Turkish Red Crescent set up kitchens.
France offered assistance to both countries. The secretary of state for European affairs tweeted France’s “full solidarity with Greece and Turkey” and said “we are ready to offer the necessary aid.”
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. Some islanders planned to spend the night in emergency tents for fear of aftershocks.
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.”
We are deeply saddened by the news of today’s earthquake in the Aegean Sea that affected Izmir and some Greek islands as well. Our government has mobilized to assess the situation and implement rescue and recovery operations.
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.”
Erdogan responded to the tweet with his thanks and offered his condolences. “Turkey, too, is always ready to help Greece heal its wounds. That two neighbours show solidarity in difficult times is more valuable than many things in life,” he wrote.
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.