Spain scrambles tents, food for refugees of deadly quake

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Army and emergency workers pitched tents and handed out food to thousands of evacuees Thursday after a killer 5.1-magnitude quake smashed through an historic Spanish city.

Nine 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 of Murcia said.

The toll moved higher because one of the injured had died, said a spokesman for the Murcia health services.

The 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.

Flattening some buildings, ripping open many walls and sending chunks of masonry flying into the streets, the tremor injured another 130 people, regional emergency services chief Luis Gestoso said.

Stones, bricks, cornices, 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 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 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 street.

"Almost no-one slept in their homes last night," the mayor said.

In the main market place hundreds of people including children in pushchairs waited in the hot sun for food packages containing powdered re-hydration drinks, jam, cereal bars and water.

Others lined up for shelter.

Red Cross tents took in families and huge green military tents gave a temporary home to other evacuees.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez sent his condolences for the relatives of the dead and said the government was acting with maximum speed to confront "this catastrophe".

The government had sent in 800 personnel, half of them military emergency units and troops and the rest police, to help shelter the many homeless, Zapatero said.

They were racing to set up more than 370 army tents and a field hospital with doctors, the prime minister said. The military emergency units had 140 vehicles to help clear the debris, he said.

Emergency workers were checking building by building to decide which can be repaired and which would have to be demolished, the premier said. "We will spare no effort for the reconstruction," he vowed.

The Red Cross said it had six emergency teams who had distributed more than 2,000 beds and 10,500 blankets.

Spain's seismological authorities predicted smaller after-shocks in the next month in the region, which lies on a geological fault line.

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.

A quake of this scale was not strong enough to bring buildings to the ground, and the scale of the damage must have been due to pre-existing problems, Suarez said in a statement.

"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.

Tomas said he had helped treat hundreds of people "mostly for anxiety."

The Socialist Party's Zapatero and his conservative Popular Party opponent Mariano Rajoy agreed to suspend campaigning for regional elections May 22 because of the disaster.

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.

© 2011 AFP

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