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Strong Earthquake Shakes Athens

September 7, 1999

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ A strong earthquake shook Athens for nearly 10 seconds this afternoon, toppling at least three buildings and sending hundreds of thousands of frightened people into the streets.

Several people were hit by falling debris and at least one fatal heart attack was blamed on the quake, which has a preliminary magnitude of 5.9. Three people were reported trapped in a seriously damaged building in the northern part of the sprawling Athens metropolis, close to the epicenter of the temblor.

A series of aftershocks swayed buildings and kept panicked people from going back indoors after one of the strongest quakes in years in the Athens area.

Chunks of concrete fell from buildings, landing atop cars and shattering on streets and sidewalks. Electric power and telephone service was out in some parts of this city of more than 5 million. People at an afternoon concert in a central Athens auditorium screamed and raced for the exits.

According to the Athens Seismological Institute, the 2:56 p.m. quake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.9 and was centered about 12 miles north of Athens. The epicenter was between the working class suburb of Menidi and Mount Parnes, which is a national park and sparsely inhabited.

The U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.8 and was centered about 15 miles northwest of Athens.

Residents took to the streets in fear buildings would collapse, some rushing to the National Garden in central Athens.

Some women dashed out of beauty salons, their hair still wet. Men bolted from their offices. Thousands clutched cellular phones trying to get through on the overcrowded network. Others tried to get to public telephones or huddled around radios at sidewalk kiosks.

Some motorcycle and scooter drivers were knocked to the ground.

Television and radio stations broadcast appeals calling on people not to panic, avoid using their cars and telephones to free access for emergency crews. Military and fire units were put on alert and hospitals called back all staff.

``We had a very strong shock,″ said George Skordilis, a seismologist with the Athens Seismological Institute. ``There has been aftershock activity but we can’t make any forecasts.″

On Aug. 17, a magnitude 7.4 earthquake hit neighboring Turkey, killing more than 15,000 people.

While Skordilis said there was no clear connection with the Turkish quake, ``we can say there is increased earthquake activity in the eastern Mediterranean.″

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