Two earthquakes struck southeast Spain in quick succession yesterday, killing at least 10 people, injuring dozens and causing major damage to buildings, officials said.
The highest quake-related death toll in Spain in more than 50 years occurred after the quakes - with magnitudes of 4.4 and 5.2 - struck close to the town of Lorca, with the second came about two hours after the first.
Dozens of injured people were being treated at the scene and a field hospital was set up in the town of about 85,000 people, officials said. The Spanish prime minister's office put the death toll at 10 and the Murcia administration said the deaths included a minor and occurred with the second, stronger quake.
Large chunks of stone and brick fell from the facade of a church in Lorca as a reporter for Spanish state TV was broadcasting live from the scene. A large church bell was also among the rubble, which missed striking the reporter, who appeared to be about 30 feet away when it fell.
The broadcaster reported that schoolchildren usually gather at that spot around that time, and if it had happened 10 minutes later, a 'tragedy' could have occurred. Spanish TV showed images of cars that were partially crushed by falling rubble, and large cracks in buildings.
Nervous groups of residents gathered in open public places, talking about what happened and calling relatives and friends on their cell phones. An elderly woman appeared to be in shock and was seated in a chair as people tried to calm her.
'I felt a tremendously strong movement, followed by a lot of noise, and I was really frightened,' the newspaper El Pais quoted another Lorca resident Juani Avellanada as saying. It did not give her age.
Yet another resident, Juana Ruiz, said her house split open with the quake and 'all the furniture fell over,' according to El Pais. Many residents decided to spend the night camped out in parks and other open spaces, fearing aftershocks and because of structural damage to their homes, according to state TV footage.
This was the deadliest quake in Spain since 1956, when 12 people died and some 70 were injured in a quake in the southern Granada region, according to the U.S. National Geographic Institute.
It says Spain has about 2,500 quakes a year, but only a handful are actually noticed by people. Spain's south and southeast are the most earthquake-prone regions.
The U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Centre in Golden, Colorado, had slightly different magnitudes for the temblors. John Bellini, a seismologist with the USGS center, said the larger earthquake had a preliminary 5.3 magnitude and struck 220 miles south-southeast of Madrid at 6:47 p.m local time.
The quake was about 6 miles deep, and was preceded by the smaller one with a 4.5 magnitude in the same spot, Mr Bellini said. He classified the bigger quake as moderate and said it could cause structural damage to older buildings and masonry. Lorca has a mix of buildings that are vulnerable to earthquakes and quake-resistent, according to the USGS.
The quakes occurred in a seismically active area near a large fault beneath the Mediterranean Sea where the European and African continents brush past each other, USGS seismologist Julie Dutton said. The USGS said it has recorded hundreds of small quakes in the area since 1990.
Lorca, which has a population of about 90,000 people, dates back to the Bronze Age and probably gained its name from the Romans. The old part of the town is made up of a network of narrow alleyways. The quakes were reportedly felt across Murcia, with tremors registered in Cartagena, Aguilas and as far away as Albacete.
In 2005, more than 900 homes in Lorca were wrecked by an earthquake measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale. Yesterday's earthquakes came as thousands fled Rome in fear that a 96-year-old prediction of a large earthquake would prove true.
The panic started after seismologist Raffaele Bendandi predicted in 1915 that a huge earthquake would strike Rome on May 11, 2011 and thanks to the internet word quickly spread.
Officials at the National Vulcanolgy and Seismology Institute, which is based in Rome, held an open day to try and convince people that earthquakes could not be predicted and the council was flooded with worried calls. KOMPAS.com