Spanish quake evacuees spend sleepless night outdoors

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Thousands of terrified Lorca residents spent a night shivering in parking lots, public squares and playgrounds fearing aftershocks Thursday from a quake of an intensity they never expected.

"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 in the Spanish southeastern city his whole life.

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

Tomas said he helped treat hundreds of people, "mostly for anxiety," after the earthquake struck at 6:47 pm (1647 GMT) on Wednesday.

The magnitude 5.1 quake -- the deadliest in Spain in more than five decades -- killed at least eight people in Lorca.

The quake collapsed the fronts of buildings and ripped open walls. Streets were littered with crumbled buildings, chunks of masonry and fallen terraces.

Outside the Burger King on the Avenida Juan Carlos 1 shopping street three cars were completely flattened by falling rubble.

A church clocktower tumbled and smashed into pieces, narrowly missing a television reporter as he conducted an interview on Spanish public broadcaster TVE. A bronze bell lay in the rubble.

Around 15,000 people were homeless in the city of some 90,000 people, said Carla Vera, spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Spain.

She said the organisation had set up more than 800 small foldable beds in a hangar on the edge of town.

But "many people prefer to sleep outside, near their homes or because they are afraid of aftershocks."

For them, the Red Cross has distributed 7,720 blankets, along with food and water, she said.

The Red Cross also moved in 24 ambulances and set up three field hospitals.

One group of four evacuees sat in fold-up chairs in the early hours of Thursday, unable to sleep. As they escaped their damaged building they had seen the corpses of three people outside killed by falling bricks.

"I was scared to death," said one elderly woman who declined to give her name.

Francisco Martinez, 61, was watching television in his fourth floor flat while his sister was in the kitchen.

"We don't know what the damage is because we cannot get in," he said as he sat outside the whole night.

Others lay on the ground under blankets, struggling to fall asleep.

"No one expected such a strong earthquake here," said Francisco Hernandez, 47 and unemployed, as he sat wrapped in a blanket in a parking lot. "Now they're afraid of it happening again."

Julian Garcia, 48, said he and his three other family members were spending the night outdoors for fear of aftershocks.

"We didn't know what was happening (when the quake struck), we never expected this here," he said.

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.

© 2011 AFP

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