A strong earthquake struck the Greek island of Crete early Monday, killing a man who was working in a church that collapsed and injuring 11 others, officials said.

The quake, measuring magnitude 5.8 according to Greece's seismological observatory, sent panicked residents rushing into the streets and damaged buildings on Greece's largest island.

It struck at 9:17 a.m. (0617 GMT), 23 kilometres (14 miles) from the Crete capital of Heraklion.

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Rescue workers searched for survivors in the rubble of a church in Arkalochori / © AFP

"So far, one man is dead and 11 people are in hospital suffering mostly from fractures, according to a spokesman from the National Centre for Emergency Care.

Spiros Georgiou, spokesman for the civil protection agency, had earlier said nine people were slightly injured in the farming town of Arkalochori which was particularly badly hit.

He said the man died in a small church that collapsed in the town.

Images on ERT public television showed old buildings that had collapsed in Arkalochori and surrounding villages near Heraklion.

"It's an earthquake that we did not expect, for the moment there are aftershocks of 4.5," said Efthymis Lekkas, the head of Greece's quake protection agency, quoted by the ANA news agency.

The minister for civil protection Christos Stylianides was to visit the area later Monday accompanied by Lekkas and other experts, ERT said.

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The farming town of Arkalochori was particularly badly hit / © AFP

The Athens observatory said the epicentre of the quake was 346 kilometres south of Athens and at a depth of 10 kilometres.

Greece is located on a number of fault lines, and is sporadically hit by earthquakes.

The last deadly quake in the country occurred on March 3 in the central town of Elassona, killing one person, injuring 10 and causing major damage.

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Greece is located on a number of fault lines, and is sporadically hit by earthquakes / © AFP

On October 30, 2020 a magnitude 7.0 quake hit in the Aegean Sea between the Greek island of Samos and the city of Izmir in western Turkey.

Most of the damage was in Turkey where 114 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

In Greece, two teenagers were reported dead on Samos.