A strong earthquake shook Athens on Friday afternoon, prompting panicked residents to flee office buildings and homes and pour into the streets of the city, although there were no immediate reports of any injuries or damage.
The quake, which happened shortly after 2 pm, had a magnitude of 5.1, according to the Euro-Mediterranean Seismological Centre, and the epicentre was in Parnitha, about 15 miles from the Greek capital.
Many in Athens felt the tremors, and Greek news outlets broadcast footage of office workers gathered on the streets of the capital, exchanging bewildered looks and tapping away at their cell phones.
But experts warned that those seeking safety should move to open areas.
“Standing outside a building is not a good idea,” Efthymios Lekkas, the head of the national earthquake planning and protection agency, told Greek television. “It is safer for people to stay inside their homes or, if they go outside, they must find an open space.”
He said experts would have a better idea by Friday evening of how the seismic activity in the area would develop.
“It is important that people remain calm,” Lekkas said. “Panic will only make things worse.”
Greek news outlets showed cars in the city centre with windshields smashed by chunks of plaster that had become dislodged from derelict houses.
A government spokesman, Stelios Petsas, said Friday that the authorities had no reports of serious injuries and that two uninhabited derelict buildings had collapsed. The Defence Ministry was on standby should armed forces be needed, he added.
He asked people to remain calm in the meantime.
“I recommend composure,” he said. “We’re accustomed to earthquakes in Greece, and I call on all citizens to stay informed and take the necessary measures to protect themselves.”
In the first few minutes after the initial quake, cell phone networks were jammed by a surge in calls. According to Greek television, there were some 20,000 calls per second, a higher rate than on New Year’s Eve.
Local news outlets reported that an evacuation order had been announced for all public buildings in the Attica region, which includes Athens, and that a series of small aftershocks were felt around the region. Power was said to be out in central Athens, and the fire service received dozens of calls from people stuck in elevators. Rescue services were on standby, Greek media reported.
It was the first major quake to hit the Greek capital since 1999, when a 5.9-magnitude tremor killed 143 people and caused widespread damage, including the collapse of a factory.
Earthquakes are common in Greece, although strong seismic activity around Athens is rare. But the 1999 quake looms large in the memories of many residents.
In 2017, a 6.1-magnitude quake on the island of Lesbos killed a woman and caused major damage to homes and roads. In October, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck the island of Zakynthos, causing significant damage.
© 2019 New York Times News Service