Earthquake Rattles Western Turkey and Greece, Killing at Least 14

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At least 12 people were killed in Turkey and two in Greece when a major earthquake in the Aegean Sea rattled parts of both countries on Friday, leveling structures in the western Turkish city of Izmir and severely damaging several residential buildings.

Officials in Turkey said another 607 people had been injured in their country and that rescue efforts were continuing late Friday at 17 buildings in Izmir. At least four buildings had been leveled.

Murat Kurum, the Turkish environment minister, said in televised remarks that there were reports of people trapped under debris, many of them in the Bayrakli neighborhood of Izmir, which with three million people is the country’s third-most populous city. More than 1,200 workers were involved in rescue efforts.

Images posted to social media and videos aired on state television showed people being rescued from the rubble. The full extent of the injuries and deaths was still unclear as rescue operations continued.

The earthquake, which had a magnitude of 7.0 according to the United States Geological Survey, was centered off Samos, a Greek island near Turkey’s coast, according to Turkey’s disaster management agency.

Two children died in Samos when a wall collapsed on them, Greek state news reported.

Izmir appears to have been the hardest hit.

The quake was felt in Istanbul, about 200 miles northeast of Izmir, and in parts of Greece. But much of the initial damage seemed to be centered in the city of Izmir, a center for tourism and industry that is prone to earthquakes.

Images posted to social media showed panicked residents running into the street, many of them wearing face masks because of the coronavirus pandemic, and severely damaged buildings teetering. In one, it appeared that several apartments in a six-story building had collapsed in on one another.

One young man was pulled from the debris of a fallen building in Izmir and was quickly reunited with his mother, who embraced him.

“My three children were at home. I was not,” his mother told Haber Turk Television. “They are all fine, survived.”

Teoman Cuneyt Acar, a resident of Izmir who felt the quake, told Haber Turk TV that the tremor lasted for around 45 seconds.

Gulen Kurtcebe, who was at a market in the Kahramanlar neighborhood of Izmir when the earthquake struck, said that although locals were accustomed to experiencing earthquakes, “this was different.” Initially, she said, she thought she was having a dizzy spell, but then a woman nearby started screaming, “Earthquake!”

“At that moment we all started to run,” she said. “But I saw the trees — they were shaking. Elderly people fell down, some others stepped on them. We couldn’t go home. We are now at the fairground, as it’s the most spacious place.”

In Seferihisar, a town near Izmir, video showed seawater flooding a seaside neighborhood. Yasar Keles, a local official, said a woman in a wheelchair drowned as the waves hit.

“I saw five-six cars in the sea, and more than 50 yachts washed up on the shore. Some sunk,’’ he told The New York Times in a phone interview.

On the Greek island of Samos, residents poured into the streets, with many posting photos and videos to social media that showed flooding in the main port. State television reported that two children, 15 and 17, were killed after being crushed under a collapsed wall in the main town on Samos.

“Words are too poor to describe how one feels faced with the loss of these children,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece said in a post on Twitter. “At these difficult times our thoughts are with their families and the unbearable pain being experienced on the suffering Samos.”

The deputy mayor of Samos, Giorgos Dionysiou, described “scenes of chaos” on the island in comments carried by several Greek news websites. “People are panicking and have run out onto the streets,” he said. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”

He said that several buildings had been damaged, mainly older ones.

As the quake struck, Greece’s General Secretariat for Civil Protection texted two messages of “extreme alert” to warn people on several islands in the triangle formed by Ikaria, Kos and Chios to avoid the coastline at risk of a possible tsunami.

An additional message was sent to residents of Samos urging them to remain outdoors in safe areas away from buildings. Photos from the island showed that a section of a cathedral in Karlovassi, the second-largest town in Samos, had collapsed.

Greece and Turkey, currently locked into a bitter dispute that marks one of the lowest points of their bilateral relations in decades, have long shared the suffering unleashed by quakes.

But quakes in the area have also been the basis for years of improved relations. More than two decades ago, a set of devastating tremors that hit the neighboring nations formed an era known as “earthquake diplomacy.” The shared calamity reminded governments and citizens on both sides of the Aegean of their closely knit fates.

In August 1999 a major earthquake — 7.6 magnitude — in northwestern Turkey caused extensive damage, leaving more than 17,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Greece responded instantly, by sending large search-and-rescue teams and organizing aid through nongovernment organizations and private citizens’ initiatives, including a major blood drive to help save lives across the border.

Within three weeks Turks reciprocated. A major earthquake hit Athens, which was badly affected because of its dense urban layout. More than 140 people were killed and property was severely damaged. The Turkish government quickly dispatched an expert search-and-rescue team to Athens, and phone lines to the Greek embassy in Ankara were flooded with calls from Turks trying to donate blood to help rescue Greeks, according to media outlets in both countries.

Foreign ministers George Papandreou of Greece and Ismail Cem of Turkey were credited with reaping the spontaneous, tangible expression of neighborliness and friendship in the following years, spearheading a series of “confidence-building measures,” a set of so-called soft diplomacy engagements centering around largely uncontroversial topics. The engagements nonetheless set a positive tone for the two men to engage on thorny topics that continue to dog the relationship between the countries to this day.

Shortly after Friday’s earthquake, Mr. Mitsotakis offered his condolences to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in a post on Twitter,

“Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together,” he wrote.

A short time later, Mr. Erdogan returned the sentiment, with his own post offering condolences to Greece and noting that Turkey also was at the 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.

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting.

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