Greek experts appeal for calm after two big quakes

ATHENS (AFP) — Greece's earthquake protection organisation on Thursday called for calm after two powerful quakes jolted the south of the country, as no injuries or damage had been reported.

"Although the crucial 48-hour period is not yet over, this was probably the main earthquake and as there have been no reports of damage or related incidents, we feel there is no reason for alarm," the OASP organisation said.

"We are monitoring the phenomenon in close cooperation with seismologists," it said.

The government said it would keep schools closed on Friday in the immediate area where the quakes struck as a precaution, as inspectors went to work checking for damage to the buildings.

The main quake measured 6.5 on the Richter scale with its epicentre just off the southern coast of the Peloponnese peninsula -- an area of frequent tremors -- sending worried residents into the street.

The experts' warnings of violent aftershocks came true exactly two hours later when a second jolt of 6.4 on the open-ended Richter Scale was reported with virtually the same epicentre.

The bigger quake was felt across the peninsula and up to the capital Athens as well as in Italy across the Adriatic Sea. But no casualties or serious damage were reported, said the Geodynamic Institute of the Athens Observatory.

"It was a big quake. Everything moved a lot. I stayed at home but a lot of people rushed out on to the streets very worried," said Takis Dimopoulos, a health worker in the south port of Kalamata, which was close to the epicentre.

Costas Athanassopoulos, deputy mayor of Kalamata, told Greek radio the shock was prolonged and initially caused panic among the population of 60,000 in the city where 20 people died in a quake 22 years ago.

Many officials in the region were relieved to have escaped major damage despite the size of the jolt. Firefighters said some walls were cracked.

"Fortunately things don't seem too serious," said Georges Zabaziotis, mayor of Kyparissi, which is also close to the epicentre.

Schools were evacuated at Tripoli in the centre of the peninsula, Net television reported, urging people to stay out in the streets in case of a new aftershock.

The first quake struck at 12:09 pm (1009 GMT) with the epicentre just off the coast of the Methoni region, said the Geodynamic Institute in Athens.

The US Geological Survey estimated it at 6.7 on its moment magnitude system.

A quake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale also hit the peninsula on January 6. No casualties or major damage was reported then.

Greece has more quakes than any other European country -- accounting for half the seismic shocks recorded on the continent -- and experts at the Athens institute said the population should be wary of more aftershocks.

"We are expecting some strong follow-ups," said institute director Georges Stavrakakis.

The epicentre of the latest quake was at a depth of about 30 kilometers (18 miles). A depth of less than 70 kilometers is considered fairly shallow, Randy Baldwin of the US National Earthquake Information Center said.

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