Strong quake hits near Greek capital of Athens, 4 hurt

A firefighter searches for trapped people following an earthquake at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, July 19, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 19 July 2019

Strong quake hits near Greek capital of Athens, 4 hurt

  • A strong earthquake centered northwest of Athens caused frightened residents to run into the capital’s streets and damage several buildings
  • Authorities said four people were hospitalized with injuries, none of them serious

ATHENS: Athenians settled for an uneasy night Friday after a strong 5.1-magnitude earthquake temporarily knocked out phone connections, damaged buildings and caused power outages.
Noting that many people were likely afraid to sleep indoors, citizen’s protection minister Michalis Chrysohoidis said additional police would be deployed and remain on standby for the entire weekend.
“We are here next to you, we will not leave, we will not sleep until all danger has receded...we will overcome this together,” Chrysohoidis said in a televised statement.
The quake struck at 1113 GMT northwest of Athens, close to where a 5.9-magnitude quake in September 1999 left 143 people dead in and around the capital.
State TV ERT reported that at least four people were slightly hurt — including a pregnant tourist and a young boy — and at least two abandoned buildings in the capital collapsed, while several more suffered damage.
Traffic jams were caused in parts of the capital where power cuts knocked out traffic lights.
“It was a very intense quake, we were terrified, everyone started coming out (of the building),” a young woman named Katerina told AFP outside the six-story cosmetics store where she works.
A government spokesman later Friday said “life in Athens is back to normal.”
Friday’s emergency was the second in just over a week for the new conservative administration of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who took office after a July 7 election.
In the city center, the marble cupola cross of a historic 19th century church came loose and shattered onto the street below.
Another central Athens church had its cupola cross snapped by the tremor, and a disused cargo conveyor belt at the port of Piraeus collapsed, TV footage showed.
And a Byzantine-era monastery on the outskirts of Athens was also damaged, the culture ministry said.
The culture ministry said the pregnant tourist was visiting the National Archaeological Museum and was struck by another visitor rushing for the exit.
She was hospitalized as a precaution, the ministry said.
The boy was struck by a falling chimney, ERT said.
News channels broadcast images sent in by viewers which also showed parked cars in central Athens damaged by fallen masonry.
Cracks also appeared in some walls in Greece’s 170-year-old parliament building.
“It was more like an explosion,” another woman told ERT on the city’s central Syntagma Square.
“We were all very afraid, so we’ll stay here for a couple of hours.”
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on television that phone networks had become “overcharged” by the sheer number of users calling to check up on friends and family.
SKAI TV said there were 20,000 calls per second, more than on New Year’s Eve.
The fire department rescued 30 people trapped in elevators in the capital, the citizen’s protection minister said.
According to the Greek geodynamic institute, the quake had its epicenter was near the town of Magoula, 23 kilometers (14 miles) northwest of Athens, and was followed by over a dozen aftershocks.
It had a depth of 13 kilometers, it said.
State engineers were out checking buildings for structural damage, and two helicopters overflew the quake’s epicenter, officials said.
Worried residents and office staff quickly gathered in outdoor areas, and department stores asked shoppers to leave but the government denied it had ordered an evacuation alert.
“People must remain calm,” said Efthymios Lekkas, head of the state anti-quake protection agency.
“There is no reason for concern. The capital’s buildings are built to withstand a much stronger earthquake,” he told ERT.
The US geological institute said Friday’s quake had a magnitude of 5.3.
“For the time being we cannot be sure whether this was the main earthquake,” seismologist Gerassimos Papadopoulos told ERT.
“There have been at least three (smaller) aftershocks already, which is a positive sign,” he said, adding that the quake was felt as far as the Peloponnese peninsula.
“People in the capital must remain calm... they must be psychologically ready for more aftershocks,” he said.
In another natural disaster earlier this month, seven people died and at least 23 were injured — most of them tourists — as a fierce storm ripped through beachfronts in Halkidiki, one of Greece’s top tourist areas on July 10.
Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes, but they rarely cause casualties.
In July 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage.


Macron backs month of Brexit talks as Johnson visits

Updated 43 min 38 sec ago

Macron backs month of Brexit talks as Johnson visits

  • Macron has rejected Johnson’s calls to scrap a key arrangement regarding Ireland
  • The EU argues the backstop is necessary to avoid the re-emergence of checkpoints in Ireland

PARIS: French leader Emmanuel Macron backed the idea of a month of further talks to find a solution to Brexit while ruling out major compromises as he met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for talks on Thursday.
Like German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, Macron supported allowing another 30 days to find a solution to the vexed issue of the Irish border which has bedevilled negotiations since 2017.
“We need to try to have a useful month,” Macron said alongside Johnson who insisted that solutions were “readily available” to prevent checkpoints returning in divided Ireland.
But Macron, who admitted he had a reputation as the “hardest in the gang” on Brexit, has rejected Johnson’s calls to scrap a key arrangement for Ireland negotiated between the EU and former British premier Theresa May.
At stake is the so-called “backstop,” which is a provision guaranteeing that border checks will not return between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland which is part of Britain.
Johnson considers the backstop to be “anti-democratic” and an affront to British sovereignty because it will require London to keep its regulations aligned with the EU during a transition exit period.
“The technical solutions are readily available (to avoid checkpoints) and they have been discussed at great length,” Johnson said. “You can have trusted trader schemes, you can have electronic pre-clearing.”
The EU argues the backstop is necessary to avoid the re-emergence of checkpoints which could lead to a return of fighting on the divided island where anti-British violence has claimed thousands of lives.
“I want to be very clear. In the coming month, we will not find a new withdrawal agreement that is far from the fundamentals,” Macron said at the Elysee palace in central Paris.
Since Johnson’s ascent to power last month, the chances of a “no deal” Brexit on October 31 have risen, which economists see as likely to wreak economic damage on Britain and the EU.
“The EU and member states need to take the possibility of a ‘no deal’ outcome much more seriously than before,” a senior EU official told reporters in Brussels on Thursday on condition of anonymity.
A French official said on Wednesday that this was becoming the “most likely” scenario.
The Paris visit was the second leg of Johnson’s first foreign trip as prime minister.
On Wednesday, he was in Berlin for talks with Merkel who appeared to offer a glimmer of hope by saying Britain should try to find a breakthrough to the issue over the next month.
“I want a deal,” Johnson told Macron. “I think we can get a deal and a good deal.”
He added that he had been “powerfully encouraged” by his talks with Merkel. “I admire that ‘can do’ spirit that she seemed to have.”
But many Brexit watchers see Merkel’s remarks as fitting a pattern in which she has often been more conciliatory in public about Brexit than Macron, whose abrasive remarks have caused anger in London in the past.
“There is not the width of cigarette paper between Paris and Berlin on these issues,” a senior aide to Macron said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
The EU official in Brussels added that the EU was “a little concerned based on what we heard yesterday (in Berlin).”
“We are waiting for new facts, workable ideas,” the official added.
Johnson, who has deployed his French language skills to charm diplomats in Paris before, has staked his leadership on withdrawing Britain from the EU by the current deadline of October 31 — “do or die.”
Some analysts see a risk of relations between Macron and Johnson becoming stormy in public, which could lead to a blame game about a “no deal” Brexit.
Johnson reportedly once called the French “turds” over their stance on Brexit during his time as foreign secretary — remarks he later said he could not recall.
But Macron pre-empted any attempt to deflect blame onto the European side during a press conference on Wednesday before Johnson’s arrival.
“It will be the responsibility of the British government, always, because firstly it was the British people that decided Brexit, and the British government has the possibility up to the last second to revoke Article 50,” he said.
Article 50 is the legal mechanism used by EU members states to withdraw from the bloc which was triggered by Britain in March 2017.
At the weekend, Macron, Merkel and Johnson will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of both Brexit and Johnson, at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.