by Alexia Vlachou, Maria Spiliopoulou
ATHENS, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- Greek authorities were put on alert on Sunday for the next week after a 5.8 Richter magnitude earthquake rattled the island of Cephalonia in the Ionian Sea in western Greece, causing no injuries, but material damage and anxiety among residents in the quake prone area.
The strong tremor which rocked the island in early afternoon was felt across western and central Greece up to 300 km from the epicenter which was traced at the outskirts of Argostoli, the island's capital, and some 290 km from Athens.
The initial assessment of the extent of the damage on buildings and infrastructure showed some damage in old houses and broken windows in stores and homes. On Sunday evening the Fire Brigade and local administration emergency crews were working to remove rocks which have blocked some roads, while the electricity company had restored the power which was briefly cut in parts of the island.
"We are still in the process of assessing the damage. The earthquake was felt throughout the island and terrified the residents. All services of the municipality of Cephalonia are on standby. Fortunately no injuries have been reported, but only damages," Deputy Mayor of the Municipality of Cephalonia Evangelos Kekatos told Xinhua.
Anaet Chrisaphi, journalist at the local TV station Epta (Seven) told Xinhua, "The bad weather with the cold and the rain doesn't help the situation. The night is long."
By sunset people who had rushed out of their homes and the local hospital, were trying to return to the normal daily life.
However, anxiety was still in the air because of the dozens of ongoing aftershocks and the island's seismic history and some families chose to sleep away from urban centers, driving to relatives in nearby villages.
At least 18 aftershocks measuring 3.5-4.5 on the Richter scale have been recorded within the first four hours, according to Thanasis Ganas, a seismologist at the Athens Geodynamic Institute.
For experts at the institute the increased seismic activity is a "positive normal development," which shows that "most likely" this was the main quake. But, they refrain from final conclusions for the time being, suggesting caution.
"We have to be on alert for the next 48 hours and throughout the week to be certain about the final outcome. Authorities need to be taking all necessary measures to avoid unfortunate incidents," he stressed.
As part of these measures, schools in Cephalonia and the nearby island of Zakynthos will remain closed on Monday until thorough checks will be conducted.
Ganas and local officials appear confident though that thanks to the measures taken in previous years in regards to the construction of infrastructure and residencies, Cephalonia can withstand quakes of such magnitude.
The island was hit hard by an earthquake six decades ago and locals seem to have done their best to safeguard lives.
In 1953 a 7.2-magnitude quake which jolted Cephalonia, Zakynthos and Ithaki followed by dozens of aftershocks caused some 450 deaths, and extensive material damage, leaving about 140,000 people homeless.
Argiro Miliaressi, a resident of the city of Lixouri, has heard innumerous testimonies of people who had witnessed the 1953 tragedy and is always worried about quakes, even though she has been rocked by dozens. In one of the most recent big ones, in 2007 the island was hit by a 5.7 magnitude tremor.
"Although we are used to quakes, this one was different in my opinion. We got scared, as the sound was intense and the duration was long. In our house we had small damage, like glasses and paintings that fell down," she told Xinhua.
Seismic prone Greece is often hit by quakes. In the most recent major tragedy a 6 Richter quake which hit Athens in 1999 caused more than a hundred deaths and extensive damage.