26 Dead, Buildings Collapse As Major Quake Hits Turkey, Greece

Rescuers dug through heavy blocks of concrete with their bare hands Saturday in a desperate quest for survivors of a strong earthquake that leveled buildings across Greece and Turkey, killing at least 26 people.

The quake struck late Friday afternoon, triggering a mini-tsunami on the Aegean island of Samos and a sea surge that turned the streets into raging rivers in a town on the western coast of Turkey.

The U.S. Geological Survey announced that the 7.0 magnitude tremor had struck 14 kilometers (nine miles) from the Greek town of Karlovasi in Samos.

Felt also created a diplomatic opening for the two traditional rivals in Istanbul and Athens, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis making a rare appeal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to express his condolences and support.

 - Hospital patients on street –

Most of the destruction occurred in and around the Turkish Aegean resort town of Izmir, which has three million inhabitants and is lined with high-rise apartment blocks.

Sections of the entire apartments, including toys, pillows and broken appliances, poured out into the streets, where survivors huddled in tears, many too stunned to talk.

Aerial footage showed entire city blocks turned to rubble.

"I thought: Is it going to end? It felt like 10 minutes, like it was never going to end," said Gokhan Kan, a 32-year-old courier.

"I was terrified not for myself in that moment but for my family, my wife and four-year-old son."

Mayor Tunc Soyer of Izmir told CNN Turk that 20 buildings had collapsed, with officials concentrating their rescue efforts on 17 of them.

Turkey's disaster relief agency confirmed 24 deaths and 800 injuries, while two teenagers died in Greece on their way home from school in Samos when the wall collapsed.

The scenes of devastation suggested the toll could rise.

One Izmir hospital rolled some of its patients out of the street as a precaution — still stuck in their beds and hooked up to the drips.

Turkey's religious affairs directorate has opened its mosques to help shelter some of those left homeless by the disaster.

- 'Remain calm' –

Images on social media showed that water was flowing through the streets of one of the towns near Izmir due to an apparent sea surge.

Thick white plumes of smoke towered over different parts of the area, where massive buildings had collapsed.

Rescuers, aided by residents and sniffer dogs, used chainsaws to try to push their way through the debris of a collapsed seven-floor house.

At another site, Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli managed to establish mobile phone contact with a girl buried under the debris.

"We ask you to remain calm," he told her in televised footage. "We will try to lift the concrete block and reach you."

NTV TV said that up to six people, including the girl's cousin, were stuck on the ground.

The governor of the area said that by Friday evening, 70 people had been taken away alive, but how many more were missing remained unclear at sunset.

Rescuers set up tents in a small park away from cracked and destroyed buildings to allow families to spend the night in safety and relative warmth.

"Because we live in Izmir, we have pretty warm weather, we can make it through today, we can make it through tomorrow," said Cemalettin Enginyurt, a retired soldier. "But we can't think of anything on the long term, we are helpless."

- 'Earthquake Diplomacy' –

On the Greek island of Samos, near the quake's epicentre, people rushed out into the streets in panic.

"It was chaos," said deputy mayor Giorgos Dionysiou. "We have never experienced anything like this."

The Greek civil protection agency told Samos residents in a text message to "stay out in the open and away from buildings".

Greece and Turkey are situated in one of the world's most active earthquake zones.

The two neighbors still suffer from traditionally bad ties, despite being both members of the NATO military alliance.

But the quake saw a spike in what the pundits quickly dubbed "earthquake diplomacy," with calls exchanged by their foreign ministers, and then, hours later, by the Greek prime minister and Erdogan.

"Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together," Mitsotakis said on Twitter.

"Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister," Erdogan tweeted in reply. "That two neighbours show solidarity in difficult times is more valuable than many things in life."

The US State Department said Washington was "heartened" by the newfound cooperation.

France, whose President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly scattered Erdogan over the past year, said it was in "complete solidarity" with the two countries.

In 1999, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck the northwest of Turkey, killing more than 17,000 people, including 1,000 in Istanbul.

In Greece, the last deadly quake killed two people on the island of Kos, near Samos, in July 2017.

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