Strong quake hits Peloponnese

An unusually strong quake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale shook southern Greece early yesterday, and was felt in Athens and even Italy, but no injuries or major damage were reported. The quake, whose epicenter was off the coast off Leonidio in the south eastern Peloponnese, struck at 7.14 a.m., sending panic-stricken villagers out into the streets. Two weaker aftershocks, measuring 3.4 and 3.9 Richter, occured at 8 a.m. and 9.49 a.m. Greek television initially interrupted normal programming to report the tremor. However, seismologists were quick to reassure viewers that the worst had passed. According to experts, it was the depth of the quake’s epicenter that saved the village and surrounding areas from tragedy. «The tremor occured 70 kilometers below sea level – which is why there have been no casualties,» said Yiannis Drakatos, spokesman for the Athens Observatory. The 5.9-magnitude quake that struck Athens in September 1999, killing dozens, had been closer to the earth’s surface. «The danger has passed – whatever happens from now on is only of scientific interest,» said Giorgos Stavrakakis, director of the observatory’s geodynamic institute. Police reported a number of small landslides in the area of Leonidio and some minor damage to school buildings. Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said that state engineers had been dispatched to the area to inspect school buildings and other structures and determine whether they are safe for use. Local officials said that residents of Leonidio and surrounding areas had initially panicked, many running out onto the street. «It was a very strong earthquake… but everything is now normal,» said Leonidio’s Deputy Mayor Ilias Manos.