Powerful aftershock hits Greek island of Cephalonia

ATHENS Mon Feb 3, 2014 7:45am EST

ATHENS (Reuters) - A strong aftershock rattled the island of Cephalonia in western Greece early on Monday, just a week after a slightly more powerful earthquake hit the region, sending panicked residents fleeing from their homes and damaging buildings.

There were no reports of serious casualties, although police said 10 people had gone to hospital, most of them slightly hurt by falling debris or furniture.

The tremor measured 5.7 in magnitude according to the Athens Geodynamic Institute, and struck at 10:08 p.m. ET, 12 km (8 miles) northwest of Lixouri, a popular tourist destination. Greek TV showed images of cracked roads in the town's port.

Last week, a quake measuring 5.8 shook the island, damaging buildings and roads. So far, about 500 homes have been deemed temporarily uninhabitable, the Infrastructure Ministry said on Monday.

"All evidence shows that this was the strongest quake to follow the main one, which struck last week," Gerasimos Papadopoulos of the Geodynamic Institute told Skai TV.

Hundreds of residents have been sleeping in cars and passenger boats, which remain docked at the Ionian island's main port, despite seismologists' assurances that the worst is over.

Aftershocks have affected Cephalonia since the main tremor on January 26, recalling memories of a quake sequence that killed 455 people and injured more than 2,400 in the region in 1953.

In a symbolic show of support, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras flew to Cephalonia instead of Athens on his way back from Brussels last week and spent the night on the island.

"Cephalonia is a beautiful and totally safe destination," Samaras told reporters on that trip.

Tourism is Greece's biggest cash-earner, accounting for about 17 percent of output. With the economy now in a sixth year of recession, the crisis-hit country has pinned its hopes on its islands and ancient monuments for an economic recovery.

Earthquakes are common in Greece, but most cause little damage. A 5.9 magnitude quake in 1999 near Athens killed 143 people.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Alistair Lyon)