Death toll rises in Aegean earthquake as rescue teams fight to reach survivors

TURKEY-QUAKE-1

Rescue teams plowed through concrete blocks and debris from eight collapsed buildings on Saturday in search of survivors of a powerful earthquake that hit Turkey’s Aegean coast and north of the Greek island of Samos, killing at least 26 people. More than 800 others were injured.

The quake struck Friday afternoon, toppling buildings in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, and triggering a small tsunami in Seferihisar district and on Samos. The quake was followed by hundreds of aftershocks.

Early on Saturday, spectators cheered as rescuers lifted teenager Inci Okan out of the rubble in a destroyed eight-story apartment block. Friends and relatives were waiting outside the building for news of loved ones still trapped inside, including employees of a dental surgery located on the ground floor.

Two other women, ages 53 and 35, were rescued from another two-story building.

At least 24 people were killed in Izmir, including an elderly woman who drowned, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD.

Two teenagers were killed on Samos after being hit by a wall that collapsed. At least 19 people were injured on the island, two of whom, including a 14-year-old, were flown to Athens and seven hospitalized on the island, health authorities said.

The small tsunami that hit the Turkish coast also hit Samos with seawater flooding streets in the main port city of Vathi. Authorities warned people to stay away from the coast and from potentially damaged buildings.

Felt in Bulgaria

The quake, which the Kandilli Institute said had a magnitude of 6.9, hit at. 14:51 (1151 GMT) in Turkey and was centered in the Aegean Sea northeast of Samos. AFAD said it measured 6.6.

It was marked over the eastern Greek islands and as far as Athens and Bulgaria. In Turkey, it shook the regions of the Aegean Sea and Marmara, including Istanbul. Istanbul’s governor said there were no reports of injuries in the city, Turkey’s largest.

Turkey is crossed by fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. In 1999, two powerful earthquakes killed about 87,000 people in northwestern Turkey. Earthquakes are also frequent in Greece.

Authorities warned Izmir residents not to return to damaged buildings and said they could collapse in strong aftershocks.

More than 3,000 rescue workers were sent to Izmir as well as emergency supplies. The Turkish Red Crescent created kitchens.

In a show of solidarity that has been rare in recent months with tense bilateral relations, Greek and Turkish government officials issued mutual messages of solidarity while the presidents of Greece and Turkey held a telephone conversation.

Relations between Turkey and Greece have been particularly tense, with warships from both facing the eastern Mediterranean in a dispute over maritime borders and energy exploration rights. The ongoing tension has led to fears of open conflict between the two neighbors and NATO allies.

(AP)