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Death toll reaches 26 in earthquake that hit Turkey and Greek island of Samos

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The temblor struck Friday afternoon off the Greek island of Samos and has caused buildings to collapse in Izmir, in western Turkey.

Rescue teams on Saturday plowed through concrete blocks and debris of eight collapsed buildings in search of survivors of a powerful earthquake that struck 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 hit Friday afternoon, toppling buildings in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, and triggering a small tsunami in the district of Seferihisar and on Samos. The quake was followed by hundreds of aftershocks.

Early Saturday, onlookers cheered as rescuers lifted teenager Inci Okan out of the rubble of a devastated eight-floor apartment block. Friends and relatives waited outside the building for news of loved ones still trapped inside, including employees of a dentist’s surgery that was located on the ground floor.

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

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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.

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 on Samos; two, including a 14-year-old, were airlifted to the Greek capital, Athens, and seven were hospitalized on the island, health authorities said.

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The small tsunami that hit the Turkish coast also affected Samos, with seawater flooding streets in the main harbor town of Vathy. Authorities warned people to stay away from the coast and from potentially damaged buildings.

Izmir Gov. Yavuz Selim Kosger said at least 70 people were rescued from wrecked buildings.

Search-and-rescue efforts were underway 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 Kandilli said had a magnitude of 6.9, struck at 2:51 p.m. local time in Turkey and was centered in the Aegean northeast of Samos. AFAD said it measured the magnitude at 6.6.

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The quake was felt across the eastern Greek islands and as far away as Athens and Bulgaria. In Turkey, it shook the regions of Aegean and Marmara, including Istanbul. The governor of that city, Turkey’s largest, said there were no reports of damage.

Video on Twitter showed flooding in Izmir’s 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 not to enter damaged buildings and to be mindful of social distancing and mask mandates amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clouds of dust or smoke rose from several spots as buildings collapsed in the quake.

Seismologist Akis Tselentis told Greek state broadcaster ERT that because of the shallow depth of the epicenter — about six miles — potentially powerful aftershocks could be expected for several weeks and warned that buildings could collapse in a strong aftershock.

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People work on a collapsed building in Izmir, Turkey, after a strong earthquake.
Searchers worked at a collapsed building in Izmir, Turkey, after a strong earthquake.
(Associated Press)

In Turkey, the government and cities that include 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 that “we are ready to offer the necessary aid.”

The Greek deputy minister responsible for civil protection and crisis management, Nikos Hardalias, headed to Samos along with a search-and-rescue team, paramedics and engineers. Some islanders planned to spend the night in emergency tents for fear of aftershocks.

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In a show of solidarity rare in recent months of tense bilateral relations, Greek and Turkish government officials issued mutual messages of support.

“We pray that there is no further loss of live in Turkey or Greece and we send our best wishes to all those affected on both sides of the earthquake,” Turkish 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.”

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 neighbors show solidarity in difficult times is more valuable than many things in life,” he wrote.

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Relations between Turkey and Greece have been particularly tense, with warships from both countries 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 neighbors and NATO allies.


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