ATHENS - Rescue teams on both sides of the Aegean Sea searched Saturday through crushed buildings and concrete rubble, pulling out at least 27 dead and hundreds more injured after a powerful earthquake toppled buildings in the Turkish city of İzmir and created sea surges on at least two Greek islands.
At least 60 separate aftershocks have jolted the Greek islands of Samos and Ikaria since the deadly 7.0 earthquake hit the region, experts in Athens said Saturday.
The powerful tremor originated from a 250-kilometers-long fault line off the coast of Samos, streaming across the Aegean Sea that divides the two adversaries.
Yet just hours after Greece and Turkey were struck by the deadly quake, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis placed a rare telephone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer his condolences.
“Whatever our differences, these are times when people need to stand together,” Mitsotakis posted on Twitter.
And his gesture was met.
Turkey’s strongman replied in a twin tweet: ‘That two neighbors show solidarity and support in difficult times is more valuable than many things in life.”
Although Greece and Turkey are both members of NATO, there are perhaps no two allied, neighboring nations whose dealings have been marked with so much conflict and mistrust. And most recently, both sides have been embroiled in a heated energy standoff in the eastern Mediterranean, bringing them to the brink of war during the summer.
The European Union and the United States have been working for months in hope of sitting both sides down to negotiate their differences — but to no avail.
It remains unclear whether the deadly earthquake can warm up ties.
Unlike a set of devastating quakes that hit the two countries in 1999, both sides have settled for diplomatic niceties. Greece has not offered rescue crews and supplies to assist Turkey’s quake-hit Izmir and surrounding provinces.
Athens and Ankara only recent re-established a military hotline but diplomatic talks planned initially for the start of October were scrapped.
Still, millions of Greeks kept glued to their television sets watching their neighbor's tragedy unfold alongside their own.
Dramatic footage broadcast by Turkish television was interplayed against domestic stills of search efforts in Samos, where two teenagers were crushed to death by a building whose walls crumbled and balcony fell as the pair were walking home from school.
In Izmir, cars and household contents such as refrigerators, chairs and tables were seen floating through the main streets — an almost mirror image of the calamity that cloaked port towns in Samos and Ikaria.
All but two of the people killed — the two teenage students — were from Turkey. Experts anticipate the death toll will rise.
Greek seismologist Akis Tselentis warned that aftershocks could prove powerful because of the shallow depth of the quake — roughly 10 kilometers. He said post tremors were expected for as long as two months.
On Saturday, France offered assistance to both countries, extending “full solidarity to both Greece and Turkey.”