5.1-magnitude shakes Athens, knocks out phone service

Athens (AFP) –


A strong, shallow 5.1-magnitude earthquake jolted Athens on Friday, knocking out phone connections and causing power outages and minor damage, as worried residents rushed into the streets.

"It was a very intense quake, we were terrified, everyone started coming out (of the building)," said Katerina, who works in a six-storey cosmetics store.

One woman was lightly injured by falling plaster, reports said, and at least two abandoned buildings in the capital had collapsed, a government spokesman said.

News channels ran photos sent in by viewers, showing parked cars in central Athens damaged by fallen masonry.

"There are no reports of serious injury," government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on television, adding that a small number of other buildings had suffered minor damage.

Petsas added that phone networks had become "overcharged" by the sheer number of users calling to check up on friends and family.

According to the Greek geodynamic institute, it was a 5.1-magnitude quake with an epicentre 23 kilometres (14 miles) northwest of Athens and was followed by several aftershocks.

The quake struck at around 1100 GMT at a depth of 13 kilometres, the institute said.

Worried residents and office staff have crowded outdoor areas but the government denied it had ordered an evacuation alert.

The fire department rescued dozens of people trapped in elevators in the capital, state broadcaster ERT said.

"People must remain calm," said Efthymios Lekkas, head of the state anti-quake protection agency.

"There is no reason for concern. The capital's buildings are built to withstand a much stronger earthquake," he told ERT.

The epicentre was near the area where a 5.9-magnitude quake left 143 people dead in and near Athens in 1999.

The US geological institute said Friday's quake had a magnitude of 5.3.

"For the time being we cannot be sure whether this was the main earthquake," seismologist Gerassimos Papadopoulos told ERT.

"There have been at least three (smaller) aftershocks already, which is a positive sign," he said, adding that the quake was felt as far as the Peloponnese islands.

"People in the capital must remain calm... they must be psychologically ready for more aftershocks," he said.

News media reported electricity outages but said internet connections were still operating.

Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes, but they rarely cause casualties.

In July 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage.