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At least 26 dead after major earthquake rocks Turkey and Greece

800 injured by 7.0 magnitude temblor; IDF offers to send search and rescue team to assist in Turkish rescue operation; 2 rival nations show rare solidarity after disaster

Rescuers search for survivors among the rubble of a collapsed building after a powerful earthquake struck Turkey's western coast and parts of Greece, in Izmir, in the early hours of October 31, 2020. (Ozan Kose/AFP)
Rescuers search for survivors among the rubble of a collapsed building after a powerful earthquake struck Turkey's western coast and parts of Greece, in Izmir, in the early hours of October 31, 2020. (Ozan Kose/AFP)

Rescuers dug through heavy blocks of concrete with their bare hands on Friday in a desperate search for survivors after a powerful earthquake leveled buildings across Greece and Turkey, killing at least 26 people.

The late afternoon quake caused a mini-tsunami on the Aegean island of Samos and a sea surge that turned streets into rushing rivers in a town on Turkey’s west coast.

The US Geological Survey said the 7.0 magnitude tremor hit 14 kilometers (nine miles) off the Greek town of Karlovasi on Samos.

Felt in both Istanbul and Athens, it also created a diplomatic opening for the two historic rivals, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis placing a rare call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer his condolences and support.

Much of the damage occurred in and around Turkey’s Aegean resort city of Izmir, which has 3 million residents and is filled with high-rise apartment blocks.

At least 17 people were killed in the city, Turkey’s third-largest, including one who drowned, and 709 were injured, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD.

Parts of entire apartments, including toys, pillows and shattered appliances, spilled out on the streets, where survivors huddled in tears, many too shocked to speak.

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.”

Izmir’s mayor Tunc Soyer told CNN Turk that 20 buildings had collapsed, with officials focusing their rescue efforts on 17 of them.

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

At least 19 people were injured on the island, with two, including a 14-year-old, being airlifted to Athens and seven hospitalized on the island, health authorities said.

The scenes of devastation suggested the toll could rise.

As a precaution, one Izmir hospital rolled some of its patients — still strapped into their beds and hooked up to drips — out on the street.

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

A woman watches as rescue workers try to save people trapped in the debris of a collapsed building, in Izmir, Turkey, October 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Ismail Gokmen)

Israel offered on Friday to immediately send an Israel Defense Forces search and rescue team to Turkey to assist in the rescue operations.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered the IDF’s Home Front Command to prepare to send a team and assistance to Turkey, the defense ministry said.

IDF representatives spoke with Turkey’s military attache in Israel, telling him that Israel was ready to immediately dispatch a search and rescue team to the area, and also set up a field hospital to treat the wounded.

It was not immediately clear if Turkey had accepted.

Israel’s Magen David Adom also reached out to the Red Crescent in Turkey and the Red Cross in Greece offering assistance, the group said.

Israel has sent rescue missions to Turkey in the past, with teams assisting after the devastating 1999 earthquake in the country, but Jerusalem’s once-close relations with Ankara have deteriorated in recent years amid tensions with Erdogan.

Images on social media from Turkey showed water rushing through the streets of one of the towns near Izmir from an apparent sea surge.

Thick white plumes of smoke towered over various parts of the city where large buildings had collapsed.

Rescuers, helped by residents and sniffer dogs, used chainsaws to try and force their way through the rubble of one destroyed seven-floor building.

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 television said up to six people were trapped at the site, including the girl’s cousin.

Rescuers search for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed building after a powerful earthquake struck Turkey’s western coast and parts of Greece, in Izmir, Turkey, October 30, 2020. (Ozan Kose/AFP)

The region’s governor said 70 people had been pulled out alive by Friday evening, although how many more were missing remained unknown by sunset.

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

On the Greek island of Samos, near the quake’s epicenter, 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.

Damaged building are seen after an earthquake at the port of Vathi on the eastern Aegean island of Samos, Greece, October 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Svarnias)

The two neighbors also suffer from historically poor relations despite both being members of the NATO military alliance, but the quake saw a spurt of what pundits immediately termed “earthquake diplomacy,” with calls exchanged by their foreign ministers and then, hours later, Mitsotakis and Erdogan.

“Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together,” the Greek prime minister said on Twitter.

“Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister,” Erdogan tweeted in reply. “That two neighbors 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 sparred repeatedly with Erdogan in the past year, said it stood in “full solidarity” with the two countries. France offered assistance to both countries following the earthquake.

Some of the world’s strongest earthquakes have been registered along a fault line that runs across Turkey to Greece.

In 1999, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey’s northwest, 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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