Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

Earthquakes and Epiphany

This morning in Athens, many of us were awaken at 7:14 a.m. by a 6.5 earthquake that rocked and rolled for a good 30-40 seconds and was purportedly felt in the whole of Greece. A different kind of Revelation to celebrate Epiphany, a day normally reserved for diving into icy waters to recover a holy cross, not diving for cover.

With its epicenter between Leonidio and the city of Sparta, it started slow, gained strength and threw in a few jolts for good measure. Residents as far as Crete reported feeling it.

I was awake 15 minutes prior because I couldn’t sleep…probably a coincidence since I don’t claim to have the sixth sense that animals do.

People here get very freaked out by earthquakes, run outside and call each other, which is followed by reminiscing about the big one in 1999 and wagering on whether the earthquake service told the truth about Richter measurements. Greek news never disappoints with its over-dramatic feeding frenzy.

I’m the opposite. Being from California, earthquakes have been a natural part of life since I was born. I was taught to duck and cover when I was 4, we rehearsed our escape route at school and at home, an emergency kit with radio and rations was in the garage, and most natives don’t even blink unless the Richter registers above 7.0. We hate visitors who come to our state wishing for an earthquake as if it’s a tourist attraction.

The only amusing earthquake-in-Greece story in my arsenal is about my friend K. She had never felt an earthquake in her life (being from Germany), thought the building was collapsing and ran outside in little more than her underwear. Not only the wrong thing to do in an earthquake, but an embarrassing albeit memorable way to meet the neighbors.

Shall we review basic earthquake safety?


What to do in an earthquake

If you are indoors:

  • Duck and cover: Take cover under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture until the shaking has stopped. Crouch in a fetal position with your legs tucked under you and arms/hands covering your head. If you cannot get under the furniture, getting next to it is equally or more safe, e.g. A piece of furniture will take the initial blow of a ceiling caving in and create a safe zone (“triangle of life”) next to it.
  • Move away from glass or windows and anything that can fall on you, such as bookshelves and lighting fixtures
  • Stay in bed if you are there and cover your head with a pillow, although it is safer to roll off the bed next to it and duck and cover if there is a light fixture above your head
  • Never go to the stairs or elevator
  • Wood houses are flexible and safer than brick or concrete slab houses, since they move with earthquake movements and create voids after collapsing
  • Stay inside until shaking has stopped; most injuries occur when people are moving to another location or running outside
  • Using doorways and door frames as protection only works if they are loadbearing; they otherwise fall backward or collapse, leaving you exposed

If you are outside:

  • Stay where you are
  • Move only if you are near a building, streetlight or utility wires
  • Ground movement is rarely the cause of injuries

If you are in a car:

  • Stop or slow down if possible (it’ll feel like your tires are flattened when an earthquake is in progress)
  • Stay where you are if there is no freeway ramp or road above you
  • Get out of the car and crouch next to the car in a fetal position with your hands/arms covering your head if you are on a freeway with a ramp or road above you, e.g. The car will take the initial blow from the ramp/road falling from above, leaving you in a a position to survive instead of crushed to death

If you are trapped:

  • Do not light a match, e.g. Gas leaks often occur after major earthquakes
  • Do not move or kick up dust; wait for rescue crews to reach you
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or breathe through your shirt
  • Do not scream to avoid inhaling toxic materials; tap on something or use a whistle (if you had one in your emergency kit)

Common sense for all situations:

  • Stay calm
  • Don’t use your phone immediately after a disaster, e.g. Emergency services need the lines to reach the most serious cases
  • Assist others with patience and understanding; if you are panicked yourself, at least don’t spread or escalate it

How well did you pay attention? Take a fun and educational interactive quiz by clicking here.

This post is also being featured at‘s “From the blogs” under their headline “Earthquake jolts Greece.”

In the News

Slapdash approach from prefectures” – Kathimerini
The camps, the poor and the state” – Kathimerini
Risks of living dangerously in a quake zone” – Kathimerini (Please)

Photo from


  GANIG wrote @ January 6th, 2008 at 16:12

A correction to your article. The epicenter was not in Limnos but in Arcadia. If you recall, Arcadia is a locaion in California as well ( Los Angeles). Have a safe week all of you back in Greece.

  Christopher wrote @ January 6th, 2008 at 17:39

I woke up this morning and thought to myself “earthquake?” I’m a Californian like you (Los Angelino in my case, however) so I wasn’t terribly impressed or worried by this earthquake. I think 6.5 is decently large, but the epicenter was too far off for it to really be much of a bother here in Athens.

Anyway I got up and went to the doorway. Your last point about doorways I had never heard before, but it makes complete sense. For me it’ll always be a force of habit to go to the doorway though. Unless there’s a schooldesk nearby, then I’d duck & cover under it (hurray for years of school earthquake drills).

Your info about what to do if you’re in a car on the freeway reminds me of the SF quake of …what was it… ’88, I think. Now that was a bad quake. I remember feeling that one down in L.A.

  EllasDevil wrote @ January 6th, 2008 at 17:40

Roll out of bed and duck and cover? My God woman, do you really expect me to be able to do that at 7:15am on a Sunday morning. No, I’ll just take my chances instead!

I’m also very unimpressed with the man upstairs (that’s God by the way, not Mr Papadopoulos in the appartment above) for allowing this to happen. I mean allowing quakes first thing on a Sunday morning is just cruel. It could at least have been left till after lunch so we all get our lie in first

  FMS wrote @ January 6th, 2008 at 19:10

I was just finishing some writing and preparing to go to sleep (!!) when it happened. As usual, I thought “Oh, another quake”, waited for something more to happen [it didn’t] and then went to sleep. Actually, with the really big quake in 1999, I can offer an amusing story. I was in a car with a slightly hysterical Greek friend driving, and we were arguing quite strongly. Suddenly, the car swerved and nearly hit the central reservation on the coastal road, and I got the rant: “Look what you made me do!” We did wonder why so many people were out on the street, shortly afterward. Anyway, I got the blame for that earthquake 🙂

  rositta wrote @ January 6th, 2008 at 19:23

We just received our weekly phone call from BIL in Athens and he didn’t even mention it, of course he wasn’t on dry land, he was out somewhere in his boat overnight on a fishing trip. Glad everyone took it in stride; this is something we don’t worry about here…ciao:)

  rositta wrote @ January 7th, 2008 at 00:34

You’re absolutely right about BIL , but just heard from SIL that stuff fell of shelves in her Athens apartment, also about our snow although it is melting today. we’re just waiting for the next one though…ciao

  photene wrote @ January 7th, 2008 at 02:14

Just glad to hear you’re okay Kat – by the way you’re right on the money about Greek TV overdramatizing the situation – they kept “panning” the same crack in a grammar in Leonida over and over and over…..although to be fair, it’s quite an impressive crack 😉

  DelawareDeb wrote @ January 7th, 2008 at 11:54

Hi. Just found your site 2 days ago and I’ve been reading some of the archived stuff. Found the one about not speaking Greek fluently interesting.

Anyway, I have a question. Greek TV reported the quake as a 6.5 but the USGS reported it as a 6.1 and the EMSC originally reported it as a 5.8 (they’ve changed it now to a 6.2). Does anyone have an explanation for these discrepancies? Is the 6.5 just typical Greek exaggeration or is there some real basis for this?

Thanks for all of the work you have put into this site. I’ll be reading a lot more. Oh, maybe I should mention that I’m an American, married to a Greek, living in GR for 4.5 years now.

  The Scorpion wrote @ January 7th, 2008 at 19:19

Deb, I’ve been telling people it’s a 6.1 and using the USGS instead of the Greek exaggeration.

However, to be fair to the Greeks, my brother (a geologist) says the USGS rates it immediately upon receiving the quake info in Colorado (i believe) and thus maybe the Greeks at EMY re-rated it a 6.5. Also, there are a few different scales to rate as well.

But, I believe Greeks do tend to exaggerate things.

  Kat wrote @ January 7th, 2008 at 21:42

GANIG – Thanks for pointing that out. We turned on the radio and it said Limnos, and I wrote this story a few minutes after it happened. When I can get confirmation otherwise, I will change it. We have no TV signal (thankfully). Reuters says Leonidio.

C – So you know what I’m talking about. Everyone is running around screaming and calling each other, and I’m just sitting here writing an article on earthquake safety. I think earthquakes are good reminders of nature’s omnipotent force over us, which we cannot control. I have added corrected information to what we were taught in school because studies by firemen/emergency crews show that “the triangle of life” I describe is much more likely to save lives, door ways are not always safe AND getting out of the car when you have a road/ramp above (think Nimitz Freeway in Oakland when everyone was crushed to death) makes a lot more sense than letting death come to you. Perhaps not everyone will survive, but at least someone might have a fighting chance.

Indeed the ’89 quake was quite bad and there were several aftershocks, a tsunami and an underwater landslide as well. For those not familiar with California, L.A. and San Francisco aren’t anywhere near each other. You can read about it at “SF Earthquake History” (P.S. Didn’t know you’re from the south)

ED – Well, take your chances in bed if you like with the pillow over your head, I’m just givin’ you the tools; it’s up to you to use them. Nature is not convenient to your clubbing schedule 😉 I was up. My fiance was up and panicking in no time flat, running down the hallway…seems pretty clear which one of us is going to make it. LOL

M – I hear you about just going to sleep. I was sitting here writing this post, while my fiance was calling his family and pacing in his underwear; that is, before he had to get dressed and go to work. Also, great story! Didn’t you know you’re responsible for all the earthquakes, car accidents and heated arguments in GR? You shoulder quite a burden, my friend 😉

R – Sure, unless a tsunami is triggered, your BIL felt nothing. He’s quite a resilient guy as well, he might not have cared. And you may not have earthquakes in Canada, but you have plenty of snow!

P – Don’t you love that? I hate when I’m watching a segment (which is hardly ever now) and they’re running the reel of the same thing over and over while droning on, so by the time it’s done I’ve seen the same footage 30 times.

DE Deb – To answer your question to the best of my experience and research, the magnitude given initially is an estimate based on immediate readings without analysis or examination of the depth of earthquake, thus they may be wrong and not match with seismic stations everywhere that usually only give readings taken at the surface. So it’s not unusual for revisions to be made and it’s not unusual for different organizations to have different readings. (See this). I’m doubtful of EMSC’s reading because although they claim to have “real-time” readings, they don’t even show an earthquake happening in Greece on their list, which was supposedly updated today. USGS and the Athens Observatory agree and say it’s 6.1. However, I’m not so quick to discount the Greek reading of 6.5 because they were closest to the earthquake’s epicenter and may have measured the depth more accurately, which in this case was 55 miles deep (pretty big deal). As to which one is correct, I suppose that’s for each person to judge or experts to debate. (*Thanks Grits for your input)

Thanks for saying ‘hi’ today. But for the record, nationality doesn’t matter, we’re all just people. 🙂 Nice to meet you!

The S – Based on my research, it’s hard to say which is correct.

  Stavros wrote @ January 8th, 2008 at 01:52


Glad to hear everyone survived yet another one. Take care.

  graffic wrote @ January 8th, 2008 at 09:48

An earthquake! now I know why they lost my luggage that day 😛

It was a nice welcome to Greece: my gf’s luggage smashed, mine lost, an earthquake. Yesterday was also a “nice” day (my gf’s macbook cracked again in the same place).

But I’m happy, at least we’re alive and kicking 🙂

  fotofraxia wrote @ January 8th, 2008 at 19:23

thanks for your very encouraging comments in our blog.
we wish you a happy new year and hope to have the opportunity to meet you in one of our future events or exhibitions.
and by the way…thanks for reminding us some basic mistakes we did on Sunday morning during the earthquake.
congratulations for your very well informed blog!!
christos from fotofraxia

  Kat wrote @ January 9th, 2008 at 17:02

Stavro mou! – Thanks for checking in on us. No people hurt and no one running out in his/her underwear this time. 😉

Graf – I was just thinking about you on Sunday, wondering where you were. Sounds like you took most of the damage and got the most cracks 🙁 Poor Milaki! Glad to hear you haven’t lost your sense of humor or happy zest for life.

C of Fotofraxia – I would love love love to attend an event or exhibition of yours! Honestly, I can’t get enough of these photos. Thank you for your compliments and taking the time to review earthquake safety. Happy 2008!

  Bobbie wrote @ January 10th, 2008 at 23:22

I just came across your site today for the first time while browsing the listings at BlogCatalog. I’m an American who used to live in Greece — and in fact I lived there for about 12 years total over 3 separate sojourns — so I was very interested to have a look at what you had to say.

This earthquake article caught my eye right away, since I’m a veteran of earthquakes over 6 magnitude both here at home (in Hawaii) and in Greece.

Congratulations on an attractive site, a well-written blog, and an excellent earthquake piece, too. Bravo!

I’ll be back…

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