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Quake in Sea Off Cyprus Rocks Wide Area of Middle East

October 9, 1996

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ An earthquake rocked a wide swath of the Middle East today, sending buildings swaying in this Mediterranean island and people running into the streets of Cairo. It was also felt across Israel, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, western Turkey and some Greek islands.

Five residents of Paphos in southwestern Cyprus, closest to the epicenter, were injured and some buildings suffered damage, state-run Cyprus radio said. It said landslides blocked some mountain roads in the area.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 6.8 earthquake occurred in the Mediterranean Sea about 20 miles southwest of the port of Paphos and some 80 miles from Nicosia.

Frightened residents fled outdoors when the temblor struck.

``I was terrified,″ said Emma Nicolaou, who runs a photo shop in Nicosia. ``I tried to run out, but I could hardly walk, the ground was shaking so much.″

Hundreds of miles away in Cairo, people similarly panicked.

``I felt a tremendous shake, the door was banging and my chair was moving around. Everyone ran down the stairs and the elevators got stuck,″ said Magdi Awaida, who works on the 22nd floor of the Radio and Television building in downtown Cairo.

The quake was felt about 3:10 p.m. (9:10 a.m. EDT) in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the southern Israeli coastal town of Eilat and in Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza.

Not everyone in Israel felt the tremor, but that didn’t stop them from commenting on it.

``The Lord wants us to wake up and start going back to our roots,″ said a man at the Western Wall who gave his name only as Mordechai.

Ahmed Hadwan, a soft drinks vendor in Jerusalem’s Old City, said the quake wasn’t felt there because ``God protects all holy places.″

The region has a history of deadly tremors: On Nov. 22, an earthquake measuring 6.2 hit the Gulf of Aqaba, damaging several buildings and properties in Jordan, Egypt and Israel. Eight people were killed.

A quake that struck Cairo on Oct. 12, 1992, killed more than 450 people, injured 4,000 and caused extensive damage to buildings.

In today’s quake, the tremor was felt for more than two minutes. Telephone lines were temporarily cut in parts of Cairo. A mild aftershock followed about an hour after the initial quake.

A quake of magnitude 6 can cause severe damage if it is centered under a populated area. Magnitude 7 indicates a major earthquake capable of widespread, heavy damage. Magnitude 8 is a ``great″ earthquake.