14 dead, buildings collapse as major quake hits Turkey, Greece
Rescuers dug through heavy blocks of concrete with their bare hands on Friday in a desperate search for survivors from a powerful earthquake that levelled buildings across Greece and Turkey, killing at least 14 people.
The late afternoon quake caused a mini-tsunami on the Aegean island of Samos and a sea surge that turned streets into rushing rivers in one town on Turkey’s west coast.
The US Geological Survey said the 7.0 magnitude tremor hit 14 kilometres (nine miles) off the Greek town of Karlovasi on Samos.
Felt in both Istanbul and Athens, it also created a diplomatic opening for the two historic rivals, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis placing a rare call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer his condolences and support.
Hospital patients on street
Much of the damage occurred in and around Turkey’s Aegean resort city of Izmir, which has three million residents and is filled with high-rise apartment blocks.
Aerial footage on Turkey’s NTV television showed entire city blocks turned to rubble.
“Oh my God!” one passerby shouted near a collapsed building in one image that went viral in Turkey.
In another, a crowd let out a relieved cheer and broke out in applause as one woman was pulled out alive in tears.
Izmir’s mayor Tunc Soyer told CNN Turk that 20 buildings had collapsed, with officials saying they were focusing their rescue efforts on 17 of them.
Turkey’s disaster agency reported the death of 12 people, and said nearly 500 were injured, while in Greece two teenagers died on their way home from school on Samos when a wall collapsed.
The scenes of devastation suggested the toll could rise.
One Izmir hospital rolled some of its patients — still strapped into their beds and hooked up to drips — out on the street as a precaution.
Turkey’s religious affairs directorate opened its mosques to help shelter some of those left homeless by the disaster.
Images on social media showed water rushing through the streets of one of the towns near Izmir from an apparent sea surge.
Thick white plumes smoke rose from various parts of the city itself, where buildings had collapsed.
Rescuers, helped by residents and sniffer dogs, used chainsaws as they tried to force their way through the rubble of a seven-floor building that had collapsed.
At one site, Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirl managed to establish mobile phone contact with a girl buried under the debris.
“We ask you to remain calm,” he told her in televised footage. “We will try to lift the concrete block and reach you.”
NTV television said up to six people were trapped at the site, including the girl’s cousin.
The region’s governor said 70 people had been pulled out alive by Friday evening.
On the Greek island of Samos, near the quake’s epicentre, people rushed out into the streets in panic.
“It was chaos,” said deputy mayor Giorgos Dionysiou. “We have never experienced anything like this.”
The Greek civil protection agency told Samos residents in a text message to “stay out in the open and away from buildings”.
Greece and Turkey are situated in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
The two neighbours also suffer from historically poor relations despite both being members of the NATO military alliance.
But the quake saw a spurt of what pundits immediately termed “earthquake diplomacy”, with calls exchanged by their foreign ministers and then, hours later, the Greek prime minister and Erdogan.
“Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together,” Mitsotakis said on Twitter.
“Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister,” Erdogan tweeted in reply. “That two neighbours show solidarity in difficult times is more valuable than many things in life.”
France, which has feuded with Turkey over a range of regional disputes and has come under attack from Erdogan for its campaign against radical Islam, also offered its support, as did the EU and NATO.
Some of the world’s strongest earthquakes have been registered along a fault line that runs across Turkey to Greece.
In 1999, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey’s northwest, killing more than 17,000 people, including 1,000 in Istanbul.
In Greece, the last deadly quake killed two people on the island of Kos, near Samos, in July 2017.