Tens of thousands of people fearing aftershocks from Spain’s deadliest earthquake in 55 years woke up outdoors yesterday after fleeing their homes following a pair of successive temblors that sent debris tumbling from buildings. At least nine people died and 30 were hospitalized for injuries.
Some slept in cars, others fashioned shelters from cardboard boxes and many dozed in lawn chairs at makeshift camps in parks and at an outdoor trade show center in the small southeastern city of Lorca, an agricultural center about 30km inland from Mediterranean Sea beach towns where little to no damage was reported.
Only a few buildings were destroyed, but the relatively light quakes of 4.4 and 5.2 reported by Spain’s geological institute sent brick building facades and parts of terraces plunging into the streets and caused damage to numerous apartment buildings that could take weeks to repair.
“The whole facade and the stairs of the flat where I live are totally broken,” resident Tomas Hinojo said. “The hardest things happened right where I live. Three of the victims killed were my neighbors.”
Spanish experts said the quakes caused so much damage because they happened about 1km below ground, magnifying 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 of the earth’s crust, for that reason they cause more damage,” said Maria Jose Jimenez, a seismologist for the Spanish National Research Council.
The US Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, reported slightly different magnitudes and a deeper quake depth.
The dead included one child, but the regional government of Murcia — where Lorca is located — said no one had been reported missing as of yesterday.
Thirty people were hospitalized, three of them in serious condition, and 260 were treated for light injuries and shock immediately after the quakes, the regional government’s health department said.
Officials estimated that about 30,000 people spent the night outdoors after the quakes, almost a third of the city’s 90,000 population.
Lorca looked like a war zone, with cars crushed by rubble and buildings scarred with cracks. The regional government said much of the damage was caused by parts of terraces in apartments and masonry facade shook loose by the quakes.
As dawn broke, many people returned home to assess the damage, but some said they had no idea when they would be able move back into their apartments and houses.