Lefkada rides 6.4-Richter earthquake

Residents of the town of Lefkada yesterday celebrated the Dormition of the Virgin in the open rather than venture into the cathedral, as aftershocks from Thursday’s strong earthquake continued to rattle the Ionian Sea island. Dozens of mostly older buildings were damaged and windows smashed in the capital and especially in the western part of Lefkada, which was hit at 8.15 a.m. on Thursday by an earthquake in the Ionian seabed measuring around 6.4 on the Richter scale. Cracks opened in roads, although most of the problems arose from rockfalls, which blocked certain routes and isolated 250 people in the area of Pefkoulia, on the northwestern side of the island. A navy transport ship left yesterday to evacuate the people, the Navy General Staff announced. Despite the severity of the quake, there were no fatalities. Twenty-two people were treated in hospitals, most for light injuries. About 50 injuries were reported overall. Army units provided upward of 200 tents for people to sleep in, but some residents have already gone back to their homes. «They are now certain that there won’t be another (major quake),» Spyros Kogas, deputy mayor of the town of Lefkada said yesterday. «The island is regaining its composure and getting ready to heal its wounds… The great majority of visitors have left the island, not only for reasons of safety but fearing a blockage in some part of the road network,» Kogas added. Experts said that the early hour of the earthquake prevented more injuries, because few people were on the island’s beaches, where many rockfalls occurred. Even more than the quake itself, it was the eerie coincidence of coming 50 years almost to the day after a devastating quake struck the nearby island of Cephalonia, which stirred memories among the island’s older residents. On that occasion, there was a series of four major earthquakes, each stronger than the other, culminating on August 12, 1953, in a tremor that measured 7.2 on the Richter scale. Seismologists said, however, that this earthquake came from a point 30 kilometers west of Lefkada and 19 kilometers deep, an epicenter different from that of the 1953 earthquakes. Still, the Ionian islands, and in particular the area around Cephalonia, Lefkada and Zakynthos are the most earthquake-prone area in an arc stretching from western Europe into China, Vassilis Papazachos, emeritus professor of seismology at the Thessaloniki University, said yesterday. Thursday’s quake and its magnitude once again stirred controversy among Greek seismologists, a group particularly prone to infighting. The Athens and Thessaloniki universities agreed that the magnitude was 6.4 on the Richter scale, but Patras Seismological Laboratory recorded 5.9 Richter, prompting Papazachos to declare: «They don’t know how to measure the magnitude of an earthquake correctly over in Patras.» «I respect his age and contributions in the field and I’m not going to start a fight. I have 17 pieces of measuring equipment in the area and I know what I’m saying,» said Professor Akis Tselentis, head of the Patras laboratory. The US Geological Survey measured the earthquake at 6.1 while the California Seismological Laboratory gave a 6.3 reading.