Two men try to secure boats due to bad weather at the port of Rafina, east of Athens, on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. Severe weather warnings remain in effect around Greece, halting ferry services and prompting school closures. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Cyclone warning as gale-force winds batter Greece

September 27, 2018 - 4:56 am

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Gale-force winds battered Greece on Thursday, forcing authorities to shut down many ferries and schools and causing flight delays as meteorologists warned about the possibility of a cyclone in the Ionian Sea.

Ferries remained in port, severing Greek islands' connection to the mainland. The strong winds toppled trees onto power lines in the northern suburbs of Athens, with the fire department saying it received more than 350 calls to remove debris.

Authorities in the Saronic municipality near Athens, on the Ionian island of Zakynthos and the Aegean islands of Tinos, Andros and Mykonos ordered schools to remain shut.

On the western island of Kefallonia, schools were evacuated near a wildfire that was being fanned by the strong winds. Authorities described the decision as a precaution, but said the island's emergency services were on alert as weather conditions were expected to worsen.

Meteorologists warned of the high probability that a Mediterranean cyclone known as a medicane — which combines the words Mediterranean and hurricane — could form Friday in the Ionian Sea southwest of the Greek mainland.

The Institute of Geodynamics, meanwhile, said an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.0 struck off the western coast of southern Greece. No damage or injuries were immediately reported.

Thursday's quake had an epicenter beneath the seabed 34 kilometers (21 miles) southwest of the town of Pylos, 245 kilometers (152 miles) southwest of the capital, Athens. The European-Mediterranean Seismological Center gave the preliminary magnitude as 5.2.

Greece is in a highly seismically active region and earthquakes are frequent. The vast majority are small and those causing severe damage or loss of life are rare.