Major Quake hits Athens

BBC Tuesday, September 7, 1999

World: Europe

Earthquake rocks Athens

Rescue workers are trying to free workers from a collapsed factory

An earthquake has shaken the Greek capital Athens, killing at least 13 people and leaving more than 100 trapped inside collapsed buildings.

John Andrew: "It's the strongest quake in 20 years" Three children are said to be among those who died in the tremor, which struck around 1500 local time (1200 GMT) and was followed by a series of strong aftershocks.

Thousands of Athenians who were taking an afternoon siesta, fled into streets when the tremor occurred.

People were hit by falling glass, concrete and marble slabs. At least three were killed when a building collapsed in the northern working-class surburb of Menidi.

Emergency services are trying to free 70 people trapped under a collapsed detergent factory in the northern Tatoi suburb, one of the worst hit areas.

A further 20 people were reported trapped in the ruins of a flattened apartment building.

Reports say up to 100 buildings have been destroyed in the tremor.

"We heard a big thunder," said bus driver Argirif Karaiskos, who was in a city centre cafe. "Then there was a huge shake and there was panic."

A government spokesman said many people were trapped inside buildings and several dozen had been transported to hospital.

Greek Prime Minister Cosatas Simitis held an emergency cabinet meeting to deal with the crisis.

Damage near ancient ruins

Cracks appeared in buildings in the historic Plaka district, but there was no apparent damage to ancient sites, including the Acropolis and the Temple of Zeus.

Helena Smith: "My own balcony swayed back and forth for 10 seconds - it was terrifying" The Athens Seismological Institute said the quake registered 5.9 on the Richter scale, and its epicentre was 20km (12.4 miles) north of the capital.

Experts said the seismic shift occurred 5 to 10km below the ground.

A series of aftershocks swayed buildings and prevented people from returning indoors.

The quake was also felt in western Turkey where a huge earthquake hit less than a month ago, killing at least 15,000 people.

The Turkish disaster has drawn sympathy from EU countries - including its old enemy Greece, which has contributed to the emergency rescue operation.

Observers say it prompted a fundamental breakthrough in the attitude of the Greek Government to relations with Turkey, which has enabled the EU to begin forging closer ties and release significant sums of money

BBC Wednesday, September 8, 1999

World: Europe

Search continues for quake survivors

As aftershocks continued, many spent the night in the open

Rescuers in the Greek capital, Athens, have been working through the night to try to save people trapped under buildings destroyed by a powerful earthquake on Tuesday.

The BBC's John Andrew: "It's the strongest quake in 20 years" At least 32 people have been confirmed dead, and officials believe more than 100 others are buried beneath the rubble of homes and factories. Hundreds more have crowded into hospitals for first aid.

More than 400 aftershocks have jolted the capital, which is the European Union's most densely-populated city.

Most of the city's population spent the night outdoors, creating chaotic scenes in parks, squares, stadiums and beaches.

Fearing the worst, tens of thousands of others fled the city for the countryside, causing traffic jams along Greece's national road in the process.

Turkey - which suffered its own devastating earthquake last month - has sent rescue teams to Greece. The quake was caused by the same seismic fault that runs beneath Turkey.

Turkish President Suleyman Demirel said: "We profoundly feel and share the pain you have from the loss of life and property in today's earthquake because of the earthquake disaster we recently experienced."

France, Russia and the Czech Republic also announced that they would send rescue teams with sniffer dogs.

Factories collapsed

Journalist Robert McDonald: "Images from Turkey are still fresh in people's minds" Several older buildings in the northern part of Athens collapsed. Two were factories, one making soap products and the other, an electrical appliance manufacturer.

Rescuers said they had heard 10 to 12 different voices inside the rubble.

The ruins were lit overnight by massive arc lights as rescuers tried to pull bodies free from the wreckage.

Among the dead were several children from a day nursery.

The Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, has visited the scene and has ordered that tents which had been bound for Turkey be distributed at first light among the Greeks who need them.

Helena Smith: "My own balcony swayed back and forth for 10 seconds - it was terrifying" Rescuers have divided the disaster zone into 31 sites. With experts still weighing up the damage, all public buildings, including schools, are expected to remain shut.

The tremor, which measured 5.9 on the Richter scale, sent hundreds of thousands of terrified Athenians into the streets when it struck as many were taking their traditional afternoon siesta.

The quake, which had an epicentre about 20km (12 miles) north of Athens, was felt as far away as the Turkish city of Izmir. It was the most powerful earthquake to hit the city for 20 years.

Correspondents say this time, the Greek authorities have been more prepared, with stricter building regulations governing most new buildings.

Walls were cracked across the city and its suburbs and rubble from old buildings cascaded into streets.

Officials said more than 100 buildings were severely damaged. But the historic buildings on and around the Acropolis escaped unscathed.

Quake forces Athens to sleep rough

Scores are still missing after a 10-second shock hits the Greek capital. Up to 30 people are believed dead

Helena Smith in Athens

Wednesday September 8, 1999

The Guardian

Parks, squares and stadiums in Athens were brimming with hundreds of thousands of people who had abandoned their homes to sleep outdoors last night for fear of strong aftershocks from the earthquake that hit the Greek capital during the afternoon.

About 100 people were trapped or missing in the rubble of apartment blocks and two factories to the north of Athens after one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the city in two decades. At one of the factories several voices could be heard. Elsewhere the state of those trapped was uncertain. Up to 30 people were killed.

It was initially feared that as many as 120 people could be trapped in a kitchen appliances factory and showroom. Workers said 30 to 40 were believed to be in the factory building but the number in the showroom was unclear. Rescue teams said they had heard 10 to 12 voices inside the rubble.

Officials said seven of the quake dead were children, some babies. Hundreds of people living in Europe's most densely populated city, were injured by falling masonry and glass.

Rescue workers and volunteers pulled corpses from the wreckage of buildings tried to shift the rubble to reach any survivors among those trapped. Turkey, France, Russia and the Czech Republic announced that they would send rescue teams with sniffer dogs.

President Suleyman Demirel of Turkey, which suffered a serious quake in its north-west last month, said: "We profoundly feel and share the pain you have from the loss of life and property." Greece impressed many Turks by sending aid despite the two countries' history of antagonism.

Athens rode out its tremor with much less misery than that in Turkey. Shoddy construction was blamed in the latter case for the widespread destruction of buildings that led to the loss of thousands of lives.

In Athens' case, it appeared that stricter building codes helped save lives, combined with the fact that last night's quake - while strong for Athens - was far milder than the seismic shock that hit Turkey. "Damage like we saw in Turkey is difficult to occur here with the modern buildings we have," said Manolis Skordilis, head of the Thessaloniki seismological institute.

Most of the damage and casualties were concentrated in working class and immigrant areas north of Athens. It was in these neighbourhoods, officials suggested, that construction shortcuts were likely. More than 100 buildings, from multi-story apartments to factories, were damaged; a few were destroyed.

In central Athens, by contrast, effects were minimal and there was no apparent damage to ancient sites such as the Acropolis and the columns of the Temple of Zeus.

"Everyone is out there [at the disaster sites in the north] and they are doing everything they can," said the government spokesman, Dimitris Reppas, late last night. "I think their job will be over by tomorrow afternoon. Authorities have been put on a state of high alert."

Seismologists said some 20 aftershocks shook the capital after the initial quake. Tens of thousands of residents began trying to flee the capital for the countryside, causing traffic jams along the highway out of Athens.

The 10-second quake hit at 3.10pm, during siesta time. From homes and offices people poured on to the streets. Many were barefoot and wearing little more than their pyjamas when they bolted from high-rises. As buildings shuddered, some jumped from the balconies of their homes.

People rushed to public telephones and jammed cellphone networks trying to contact their families. There was chaos on the streets as traffic lights went on the blink.

"At first I thought a bomb had gone off until I realised that buildings were shaking and swaying all around me," said Aaron Morby, a British tourist. "It was both terrifying and surreal, there was a sense of collective fear as people stared at each other not knowing what to do."

Greek authorities, eager not to repeat the chaotic scenes that followed last month's devastation in Turkey, pressed emergency services to act fast.

The interior minister, Vasso Papandreou, said the government was providing tents for the homeless in public parks and squares overnight. "Tomorrow we hope to put all of them in hotels," she said.

Electricity and gas supplies were shut down by technicians trying to prevent fires. Greek scientists said the earthquake's epicentre was 12 miles north of the capital between the impoverished region of Menidi and Mount Parnassus.

The prime minister, Costas Simitis, declared several parts of the capital an emergency zone. Officials said all public buildings, including schools, would be closed today so that engineers could check for damage.

Why fewer died this time

Greece, like Turkey, is a zone of seismic violence: the serrated landscape of the Balkan peninsula testifies to aeons of rearrangement by earthquakes operating along hundreds of fault zones as both countries are squeezed - at inches a year - by Africa and Eurasia.

Yesterday's 5.9-magnitude shock in Athens was fairly mild. The force that killed thousands in north-west Turkey last month probably released 2,000 times more destructive energy.

Greek building codes have also been steadily tightened, though that can never guarantee safety: earthquake waves are capricious, often seeming to select buildings of a certain height or ground area for destruction, sparing the rest. Tim Radford

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 1999

22 killed and scores trapped by Athens earthquake

Helena Smith in Athens Wednesday September 8, 1999

The Guardian

Greek authorities were last night counting the cost of one of the biggest earthquakes ever to hit Athens - one of Europe's most densely populated cities - as rescue workers battled to extricate people trapped in battered buildings around the capital.

Thousands of panic-stricken Athenians and tourists poured onto the streets as the tremor, which measured 5.9 on the Richter scale, shook the city for 10 terrifying seconds. At least 22 people were believed to have been killed and at least 80 people were reported to be trapped as a factory in central Athens collapsed.

Dozens of people were injured by falling glass, concrete and marble slabs shaken loose in the earthquake. In the working-class suburbs of Menidi and Metamorphosi families were reported to be trapped underneath three multi-storey buildings that collapsed like houses of cards.

The quake jolted the capital while thousands of Greeks were taking their afternoon siesta. As Athens' multitude of high-rise apartment blocks swayed under the force of the seismic shift, residents rushed into the streets barefoot and in pyjamas and towels. Office buildings, factories and public utilities were similarly abandoned as frightened workers bolted outdoors.

Athenians rushed to use public telephones and jammed mobile phone networks as they tried to contact their families.

There was chaos on the roads as traffic lights ceased to operate and traffic jams quickly built up.

"At first I thought a bomb had gone off - until I realised that buildings were shaking and swaying all around me," said Aaron Morby, a British tourist who had flown into Athens only hours before.

"It was both terrifying and surreal," he said. "There was a sense of collective fear."

Jerry and Susan Herllerman, a couple from Maryland in the United States, said they had rushed down six flights of stairs in their hotel when the earthquake struck. "On the streets you could see the falling masonry as buildings swayed," said Mr Herllerman.

Emergency services acted within minutes of the quake which knocked out telephone lines across the capital. Electricity and gas supplies were shut down by officials in an attempt to prevent fires.

A spokesman for the Greek government, Dimitris Reppas, said hundreds of buildings, including hospitals, had been damaged by the tremor.

Despite appeals for calm, hundreds of thousands remained on the streets until nightfall as a series of after-shocks continued to rock the city where more than half of Greece's 10m population lives.

Seismologists said the earthquake's epicentre was 12 miles north of the capital, between Menidi and Mount Parnassus. But officials said that there was relatively little structural damage to buildings, unlike in Turkey, where shoddy constructions were blamed for the deaths of more than 15,000 people in last month's quake.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 1999

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