Strong earthquake shakes central Greece, felt in Balkans

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People gather at the main square after an earthquake in Larissa city, central Greece, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of over 6.0 has struck central Greece and was felt as far away as the capitals of neighboring Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. (AP Photo/Vaggelis Kousioras)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of at least 6.0 struck central Greece Wednesday and was also felt in neighboring Albania and North Macedonia, and as far as Kosovo and Montenegro.

One man was injured by falling debris but there were no other immediate reports of serious injury. Local officials reported structural damage, mainly to old houses and buildings that saw walls collapse or crack.

The midday quake sent thousands of people rushing out of homes and office buildings into the streets in Larissa and Tyrnavos, the closest towns to the epicenter, which was 22 kilometers (14 miles) west-northwest of Larissa. Numerous aftershocks hit the area, the most powerful having a preliminary magnitude of over 5.0.

The quake struck at 12:16 p.m. (1015 GMT), according to the Athens Geodynamic Institute which put the preliminary magnitude at 6.0.

The United States Geological Survey and Global Seismic Monitor Geofon put the preliminary magnitude at 6.3, but it is common for magnitude estimates to vary soon after a quake.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu phoned his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, to convey solidarity and offer assistance if needed, according to officials from the two neighboring countries — which are longtime regional rivals.

In Athens, seismologist Vassilis Karastathis told reporters that the quake originated in a fault line in the area that has historically not produced temblors of much larger magnitude than Wednesday’s. He said the post-quake activity appeared normal so far but experts were monitoring the situation.

“The earthquake had an estimated depth of just 8 kilometers (5 miles) and that was one of the reasons why it was felt so strongly in the region,” said Karastathis, who is the deputy director of the Athens Geodynamic Institute.

Nikos Gatsas, mayor of the town of Elassona which lies north of the epicenter, told Greece’s state broadcaster ERT that walls of old houses had collapsed in nearby villages, and that one village school had sustained damage. All pupils had been evacuated from the building and there were no injuries.

The fire department said it had received reports of damage to one home and school, while the fire service and police were patrolling the area. All local fire departments were put on alert.

The head of the National Defense General Staff and other civil defense, fire department and political officials were heading to the area.

Greece lies in a highly seismically active region. The vast majority of earthquakes cause no damage or injuries.

Last October, an earthquake that struck the eastern Greek Aegean island of Samos and the nearby Turkish coast killed two high school students on Samos and at least 75 people in Turkey. In 1999, an earthquake near Athens killed 143 people.

___ Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed. ___

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