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A POWERFUL earthquake has sparked a tsunami alert in Crete with tourists urged to "stay away from the shore" just weeks after a tremor left hundreds homeless.

Witnesses reported feeling a "massive tremor" as a 6.3 magnitude quake rocked the Greek holiday island today - causing a church to collapse.

The European Mediterranean Seismological Centre recorded the epicentre of the earthquake as 31 miles south-east of the port of Sitia as panicked locals took to the streets.

A resident of the town Analipsi reported to the EMSC: "Massive tremor. The whole house shook side to side by at least 15 centimetres. It lasted about 20 seconds.'"

According to the agency, the quake was at a depth of 6.2 miles.

Prominent seismologist Gerasimos Papadopoulos said the island had also been struck by a tsunami following the huge quake.

Appealing for people to evacuate its coastal areas, he said: "A small tsunami is underway in southern Crete. Withdraw from the shores."

The strong quake reportedly caused a church in Agios Nikolaos, near Sitia, to crumble, reports Protothema, while another image showed smashed items strewn across a supermarket floor following the tremor.

The Geodynamic Institute in Athens reported that the quake had occurred undersea off the eastern coast of the island at 12.24pm local time (9.24am GMT).

Magnitude 4.1 and 4.5 quakes that are believed to be aftershocks took place minutes later, the institute said.

There were no immediate reports of injury.

Authorities said police and fire crews were checking buildings in eastern Crete for damage.

The quake was felt on Greek islands to the east of Crete, including Karpathos, Kassos and Rhodes.

Crete's deputy regional governor, Yiannis Leondarakis, told Greece's state-run radio: "Fortunately, there does not appear to be any serious damage despite the fact that it was a strong event and occurred at a shallow depth."

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