by Zenyep Bilginsoy and Elena Becatoros
ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) — A strong earthquake struck Friday in the Aegean Sea between the Turkish coast and the Greek island of Samos, killing at least 14 people and injuring hundreds amid collapsed buildings and flooding, officials said.
A small tsunami struck the Seferihisar district south of Izmir, the city in western Turkey that was the worst affected, said Haluk Ozener, director of the Istanbul-based Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute.
At least 12 people were killed in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, including one who drowned, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking in Istanbul, said 438 were injured with five undergoing surgery and eight in intensive care.
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 in Samos, with two, including a 14-year-old, being airlifted to Athens and seven hospitalized on the island, health authorities said.
The small tsunami that hit the Turkish coast also affected Samos, with seawater flooding streets in the main harbor town of Vathi. 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, with four destroyed and more than 10 collapsed. Others suffered less severe damage, he said, but did not give an exact number.
Search-and-rescue efforts were underway in at least 17 buildings, AFAD said. Turkish media showed rescuers pulling people from the rubble. Clouds of dust or smoke rose from several spots.
The earthquake, which the Kandilli institute said had a magnitude of 6.9, struck at 2:51 p.m. local time (1151 GMT) in Turkey and was centered was centered in the Aegean northeast of Samos at a depth of 16.5 kilometers (10.3 miles).
It was felt across the eastern Greek islands and as far as the Greek capital, Athens, and in Bulgaria. In Turkey, it was also felt across the regions of Aegean and Marmara, including Istanbul. Istanbul’s governor said there were no reports of damage in the city, Turkey’s largest.
Video on Twitter showed flooding in the 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 to not enter damaged buildings and to be mindful of social distancing and mask mandates amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Greek seismologist Akis Tselentis told Greek state broadcaster ERT that due to the shallow depth of its epicenter — roughly 10 kilometers — potentially powerful aftershocks could be expected for several weeks and warned that buildings could collapse in a strong aftershock.
Rescue teams and relief supplies were sent to Izmir from Istanbul and other cities, as well as from the Turkish Red Crescent.
France offered assistance to both countries. The secretary of state for European affairs tweeted France’s “full solidarity with Greece and Turkey” and said “we are ready to offer the necessary aid.”
The Greek minister responsible for civil protection and crisis management, Nikos Hardalias, headed to Samos along with a search and rescue team, paramedics and engineers.
In a show of solidarity rare in recent months of tense bilateral relations, Greek and Turkish government officials issued mutual messages of solidarity.
“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,” Turkey’s 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 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.”
Speaking Friday evening, Erdogan thanked Mitsotakis for his call and offer for help. He said Turkey was not currently in need but reciprocated by saying, “We stand by Greece.” He also thanked other countries for their offers of aid.
Relations between Turkey and Greece have been particularly tense, with warships from both 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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Zenyep Bilginsoy and Elena Becatoros are reporters for The Associated Press. Becatoros reported from Athens. Angela Charlton in Paris and Amer Cohadzic in Sarajevo, Bosnia, contributed.
About the Headline Photo: Rescue workers and local people carry a wounded person found in the debris of a collapsed building, in Izmir, Turkey, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, after a strong earthquake in the Aegean Sea has shaken Turkey and Greece. Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency said Friday’s earthquake was centered in the Aegean at a depth of 16,5 kilometers (10.3 miles) and registered at a 6.6 magnitude. (AP Photo/Ismail Gokmen)