‘Huge shock’: Greeks investigate destruction after major earthquake | Earthquake News

Damasi, Greece – The young schoolgirl crouching under her desk was still, even as everything around her was shaking. Terrified, all she could do was scream and cry.

“As I approached her, I tried to reassure her by telling her not to be afraid,” said Grigorios Letsios, head of the primary school in Damasi, a sleepy village in central Greece shaken by a powerful earthquake Wednesday shortly after noon.

As soon as the 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck, Letsios, a stocky 58-year-old man with 32 years of teaching experience, instinctively rushed out of his downstairs office down the hallway. and on the stairs.

The false ceiling of the two-story building had just collapsed, raising a cloud of debris and dust.

“Everything was covered in darkness,” Letsios said Thursday. “The building was dancing up and down, left and right, with a terrible noise,” he recalls. My only thought was the children’s lives and how I could protect them.

As soon as the shaking stopped, Letsios went class by class and ordered an evacuation. His well-trained teaching staff and students performed him perfectly, while he stayed to make sure no children were trapped. It was in the last classroom that he found the frozen 12-year-old girl.

“I picked her up and said, ‘I’m going to get you out, don’t worry,’” Letsios said. “As soon as we got to the yard, I handed it to her teacher and went back into the school to make sure there was no one inside.

There was not. While the pastel-hued school was badly damaged, its walls cracked and furniture knocked over, all of its 63 students and 10 teachers survived unharmed.

It was much the same for the rest of Damasi, where more than 100 houses collapsed or were badly damaged. But miraculously, residents of this farming village say no one was seriously injured, even though fierce aftershocks – some as strong as magnitude 5.9 on Thursday night – continued for the next 24 hours.

“We are scared and we don’t know what will happen next, but luckily no one was seriously injured,” said Vakis, sitting on a plastic chair near the center of the local football field, a few steps away. from school.

‘Destroyed everything’

Looked tired but calm, he was one of the many residents of Damasi who braved sub-zero temperatures and spent the night in one of the tents set up on the grass. Many others chose to sleep in their vehicles parked along the dusty roads surrounding the field, while others decided to seek refuge with relatives or friends further away from the epicenter.

“Last night was the worst, like no other,” Eleni said, trying to hold back tears as she leaned on a van that also served as shelter for her family during the night. In her house, she says, everything has been destroyed. “Glass, furniture – even the radiators came loose from the walls.”

Greece is in a very seismically active region but it is rare for earthquakes to cause significant damage or many deaths, especially in this part of the country.

Almost 80 years ago to the day, on March 1, 1941, an earthquake of similar intensity in the region destroyed Larissa, dealing a heavy blow to a town that was at the time heavily bombarded by airplanes. Italians fighting during World War II.

This time, however, Larissa – about 30 km south of Damasi – withstood the force of the earthquake, with only a few buildings sustaining minor damage.

A man carries his belongings from a damaged house in the village of Damasi, near the town of Tyrnavos, after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the central region of Greece [Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP]

The situation was different, however, for Mesochori, a small village of about 300 inhabitants 15 km northwest of Damasi. While authorities are still assessing the extent of the damage, dozens of homes have already been declared uninhabitable, leaving their occupants in need of shelter.

Among the destroyed buildings is the imposing church of Saint Demetrios in the village, where its belfry and parts of the stone masonry walls have collapsed.

“I experienced all this horror seeing the church crumble in front of my eyes,” said Giannis Zarladanis, president of Mesochori, who was about 50 meters away when the earthquake struck. “I will never forget her as long as I live.”

In an impromptu meeting with visiting officials on Thursday on the edge of the village square, Zarladanis urged central authorities to help stranded residents by providing them with adequate shelter and portable toilets.

“The situation is very difficult,” he said, standing a few meters from the Red Cross workers preparing to distribute lunch to the residents. “People are very scared and there are constantly aftershocks.”

Back in Damasi, Letsios and two firefighters rushed riskily in and out of the badly damaged school, each time bringing different items.

“We saved all we could,” he said, covered in dust and exhausted. Next to him was a small pile of equipment, an amplifier and a gym mat, among other things. He also took out the school bags of the children left behind to give them to their parents.

“The parents thanked us all for saving their children, without any injuries,” said Letsios, visibly moved.

“I couldn’t sleep all night yesterday, still haven’t recovered. The shock was enormous.

This photo shows a damaged church in the village of Mesohori after a strong earthquake [Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP]

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