July 9 at dawn, 05 hours 11 minutes – the moment when the earth reared up on the island of Santorini. The first rays of the sun showed a terrible catastrophe. Dozens of those killed, about 100 injured and hundreds of houses destroyed to the ground.
Costas Papazahos, professor of seismology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, says: “One of the greatest earthquakes of the 20th century, which occurred at dawn on July 9, 1956, nearly razed Santorini, erupting the Fera volcano and creating a tsunami.
The 7.5 magnitude earthquake that struck the sea south of Amorgos was the largest in the 20th century in all of Europe, from the Urals to Gibraltar and from Malta to Lapland. The damage from the main earthquake added a devastating aftershock (magnitude 6.9), which followed 12 minutes later.
An earthquake measuring 4.9 on the Richter scale was a warning and occurred at noon the previous day, with its epicenter in the sea area south of Amorgos. However, the inhabitants of the Cyclades were not particularly worried. Such earthquakes occur in this seismically active area every month. The next day, in the early morning of July 9, there was a major earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, and this time the results were different.
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As a result of two earthquakes, not only 53 people died and more than 100 people were injured, but one of the largest tsunamis in the Aegean Sea occurred, the height of which reached 25 m on the southeastern coast of Amorgos, 20 m on the north-western coast of Astypalea and 10 m on Folegandros, while on other coasts of the South Aegean Sea, up to Izmir, it was already noticeably smaller. According to reports from that time, the woman was killed by the tsunami in Kalymnos. Weakened, it reached Kalamata and destroyed many small boats in the port.
The earthquake damaged all the Cyclades islands
In Santorini, the most severe damage was noted in Oia, Fira, Imerovigli and smaller ones in other settlements such as Megalochori, Pyrgos, Episkopi-Gonia. Almost all public buildings were destroyed. In addition to Santorini, they recorded serious destruction in Amorgos, Anafi, Astypalea, Ios, Paros, Naxos, Kalymnos, Leros, Patmos and Lipsi.
The overall result is that 529 houses were destroyed, 1482 seriously damaged and 1750 minor damage. The number of wounded exceeded 100 people.
Then-Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis responded by declaring a state of “large-scale local disaster” in Santorini and visiting the affected area just days after the disaster on 14 July.