Spain mourns quake victims

13th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Sobbing relatives joined a funeral mass in the quake-wrecked Spanish town Lorca on Friday for four of the nine victims who perished in a hail of tumbling masonry and bricks.

Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia held hands, hugged and spoke with the bereaved, many in tears, in a covered service at a show ground area on the outskirts of the historic, southeastern city.

Four coffins were lined up in front of the congregation.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero joined the mass as two days of national mourning began for the five male and four female victims, including a 14-year-old boy and two pregnant women.

The 5.1-magnitude earthquake struck at 6:47 pm (1647 GMT) Wednesday at a depth of just 10 kilometres (six miles), coming nearly two hours after a smaller 4.4-magnitude quake.

Ripping open walls, toppling roofs and crushing cars under tumbling stones, the tremor also injured another 130 people, according to emergency services, and forced thousands from their homes.

According to the Red Cross, 15,000 of the city's 93,000 inhabitants were evacuated from their homes.

Thousands spent their second night away from their residences. But unlike Thursday, when they shivered under blankets outdoors, most were able to sleep in hundreds of tents supplied by the Red Cross and the military.

Touring the worst of the devastation before the mass, Zapatero promised that an agreement would be sign in the next days to ensure the reconstruction of Lorca.

"The earthquake was hard, it had a strong impact, but the country is stronger, our determination for solidarity and reconstruction is stronger," he vowed.

The Red Cross admitted they still lacked enough fold-up canvas beds for all the homeless, many of them poor immigrants from Latin America and north Africa unable to find alternative lodging.

"We had to treat many who were suffering from the cold as they slept in the open air," said Enrique Garcia, a Red Cross coordinator.

In Lorca, most of bars, restaurants, shops appeared to be closed after the quake. No traffic was allowed in the hard-hit main Avenida Juan Carlos I, and shops and hotels had closed their doors.

Bulldozers cleared streets filled with stones, bricks, cornices, collapsed terraces and crumpled cars.

Some 20,000 buildings including many from the 16th and 17th centuries were reported damaged in Lorca, which traces its history back more than 2,000 years.

Mayor Francisco Jodar said 80 percent of the city's buildings suffered some damage.

The government said it could provide 3,500 places for the night in four tent camps, and if necessary 1,500 more.

Some 800 military and police personnel, equipped with 140 vehicles to help clear the debris, were deployed.

Emergency workers checked building by building to decide which can be repaired and which will have to be demolished.

The president of Spain's College of Geologists, Luis Suarez, said the quake released energy equal to 200 tonnes of TNT and he expected the intensity of aftershocks to diminish.

He blamed structural weaknesses in the buildings and sandy soil for exacerbating the damages.

Zapatero and his conservative Popular Party opponent Mariano Rajoy have agreed to suspend campaigning for regional elections on May 22 because of the disaster.

It was the deadliest earthquake in Spain since April 19, 1956, when a tremor wrecked buildings and killed 11 people in Albolote, a town in the southern Spanish province of Granada.

© 2011 AFP

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