Inhabitants of the Ionian Sea islands rushed out to the streets when they felt the tremor from a large earthquake off the western coast of Greece Tuesday.
Two elderly women died as the magnitude 6.5 earthquake toppled houses and other buildings on the island of Lefkada. One woman from the village of Athani died when a wall collapsed on top of her, and another woman died when a boulder hit her house, according to Lefkada's fire department. Four other people have been hospitalized, but they are not critically injured.
"There is a dead woman, the stable fell over her and we are still trying to recover her body under the rubble," the owner of a gift shop in Athani, Nikos Rombotis, told Reuters by phone.
Damage has been extensive, but the authorities' efforts to assess the earthquake's impact have been hampered by landslides. The earthquake damaged the narrow, mountainous road system that serves the island of Lefkada. The Vassiliki harbor was partly submerged after the offshore earthquake, and the island's main road was also damaged, according to State ERT TV. Several schools closed for the day until authorities could check them for structural soundness.
People felt the tremors from as far away as the neighboring islands of Ithaca and Kefalonia. The earthquake occurred off the coast of Lefkada, western Greece, at 9:10 a.m. local time, according to the Athens Geodynamic Institute.
The earthquake's preliminary magnitude was 6.1 according to the Athens Geodynamic Institute or 6.5 according to the US Geological Survey. Scientists often continue to assess the magnitude of earthquakes for several days. An aftershock with magnitude 5.2 occurred an hour after the initial quake.
Earthquakes occur fairly regularly in Greece, and the area's written record describes centuries of earthquakes affecting the area long before modern-day seismic recording equipment. Some of these caused damage as far away as the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, according to the US Geological Survey.
To help minimize damage from the frequent earthquakes, new buildings on the earthquake-prone islands of Greece are built to strict standards to withstand seismic shaking.
This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.