Deadly 5.1 quake forces mass evacuations in Spain

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Thousands of shocked evacuees camped by rubble-littered streets Thursday after a 5.1-magnitude quake smashed through an historic Spanish city, killing eight people and injuring 130.

Eight people including a child perished when Spain's deadliest quake in more than 50 years rocked the southeastern city of Lorca on Wednesday, the regional government said.

Three of the dead were women, at least one pregnant, Lorca Mayor Francisco Jodar told regional newspaper La Verdad.

The quake, which flattened buildings, ripped open walls and sent chunks of masonry flying into the streets, injured another 130 people, regional emergency services chief Luis Gestoso said.

Fallen buildings, chunks of masonry, collapsed terraces and crumpled cars filled the streets and forced huge numbers of the town's 93,000 inhabitants to evacuate their homes.

Some 20,000 buildings were damaged in Lorca, which traces its history back more than 2,000 years and boasts many medieval monuments, according to public television.

The clocktower of the 17th century San Diego Church tumbled and smashed into pieces, narrowly missing a television reporter as he delivered a report on Spanish public broadcaster TVE. Its bronze bell lay in the rubble.

"Almost no-one spent slept in their homes last night," the town mayor said, some sheltering in other towns, their cars, in streets or in public squares.

"We have provided them with blankets, food, water and both medical and psychological attention," he said. Spanish media spoke of 10,000 evacuees but the mayor said he could not give an exact a figure.

"It was very sad to see neighbours spending the night in the street. There is desperation and fear that there could be another seismological event," he said.

Spain's seismological authorities predicted smaller after-shocks in the next month. Regional authorities said there were no reports of missing people and the death toll was not expected to rise significantly.

"We know we live near a fault line but we never thought this would happen to us," said Pepe Tomas, 56, a male nurse at a local clinic who has lived his whole life in the city, which lies in one of the most active seismic zones of the Iberian peninsula.

"People are afraid. No one here has ever seen anything like this before," he said.

Tomas said he had helped treat hundreds of people Wednesday and Thursday, "mostly for anxiety," after the earthquake struck at 6:47 pm (1647 GMT) on Wednesday at a depth of just 10 kilometres (six miles).

The shock could be felt as far away as the capital Madrid. It hit nearly two hours after a smaller 4.4-magnitude quake.

Socialist Party Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his conservative Popular Party opponent Mariano Rajoy agreed to suspend campaigning for regional elections May 22.

A total 225 emergency military units deployed to the quake zone along with another 400 safety workers including rescuers with search dogs, the interior ministry said.

Police also sent in two specialized trucks with floodlights and three helicopters including a Superpuma, the ministry said. The Red Cross moved in 24 ambulances and set up three field hospitals.

A total of 350 ambulances transferred 400 patients out of two of the town's hospitals, one of which sustained structural damage, the regional government said.

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.

Ironically, it struck on the same day many residents stayed away from work in the Italian capital Rome fearing a supposed prophecy of a devastating tremor by a self-taught Italian seismologist who died in 1979.

© 2011 AFP

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