Cyclone warning as gale-force winds batter Greece

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's civil protection services went on alert Thursday as the country braced for the threat of a cyclone, forest fires prompted evacuations on an island and an earthquake rattled the south of the country.

Gale-force winds of up to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) slammed into Greece from the west, and meteorologists warned about the possibility of a cyclone in the Ionian Sea.

The high winds forced ferries to remain in port Thursday, 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 500 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. Schools in greater Athens will also be closed Friday.

On the western island of Kefallonia, several villages were evacuated as wildfire was being fanned by the strong winds. 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.

Severe weather warnings were issued through Sunday, with the storm expected to gradually move eastward.

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.

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