Thousands of people spent the night outdoors in a southeastern Spanish city in fear of further tremors after Spain's worst earthquakes in 50 years killed eight people and injured dozens.
Thousands of people spent the night outdoors in a southeastern Spanish city in fear of further tremors after Spain’s worst earthquakes in 50 years killed eight people and injured dozens.
People draped in blankets to protect them from the morning cold queued up Thursday for hot drinks handed out by voluntary workers at five makeshift camps in parks and a trade show center set up in the small city of Lorca. that was hit by the two quakes – with magnitudes of 4.4 and 5.2 – a day earlier.
A Murcia regional government statement said eight people, including one child, had died in the quakes which seriously damaged many buildings and crushed vehicles. A total of 167 people were treated in hospitals in the city.
Officials on Wednesday had initially put the death toll at 10.
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The statement said three people were in serious condition. Lorca has a population of about 85,000.
People slept in cardboard boxes and tents, while hundreds of others lay down on the ground with nothing more than their clothes and blankets to protect them.
As dawn broke, many people began returning to their homes to pick up belongings. Others wandered about the streets taking photographs of the damage with their mobile phones.
Many railings and walls of rooftop balconies came crashing to the ground in the quakes.
Large chunks of stone and brick fell from the facade of a church in the city as a reporter for Spanish state TV was broadcasting live from the scene when the earthquake struck shortly after 7 p.m. A large church bell was also among the rubble, which just missed striking the reporter.
Television images showed cars that were crushed by falling rubble, and large cracks in buildings.
Although Wednesday’s quakes were relatively light, experts said damage was heavy because the quake occurred very close to the surface – approximately a kilometer (0.6 miles) below the ground – which magnified their energy and destructive power.
“The quakes in this area of the Iberian peninsula tend to be close to the surface. They occur in the first few kilometers (miles) of the earth’s crust, for that reason they cause more damage,” Maria Jose Jimenez, a seismologist for the Spanish National Research Council told The Associated Press.
“If the movement are 40 kilometers deep, the energy waves that reach the surface are much weaker,” she added.
Three quakes of magnitude 5 struck Lorca in 1999, 2002 and 2005 causing damages but no injuries.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez halted campaigning for upcoming regional and municipal elections in Spain to oversee an emergency committee set up to coordinate rescue and relief operations. Deputy premier Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba and Defense Minister Carme Chacon were to visit the city Thursday.
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 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 Center 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 (350 kilometers) south-southeast of Madrid at 6:47 p.m. (1647 GMT, 12:47 p.m. EDT).
The quake was about 6 miles (10 kilometers) deep, and was preceded by the smaller one with a 4.5 magnitude in the same spot, 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-resistant, 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.