Two earthquakes struck southeast Spain in quick succession Wednesday, killing at least seven people, injuring dozens and causing major damage to buildings, officials said.
The epicenter of the quakes with magnitudes of 4.4 and 5.2 was close to the town of Lorca, and the second came about two hours after the first, an official with the Murcia regional government said on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.
The Murcia regional government said a hospital in Lorca was being evacuated, dozens of injured people were being treated at the scene and a field hospital was being set up. It said the seven deaths included a minor and occurred with the second, stronger quake.
Large chunks of stone and brick fell from the facade of a church in Lorca as Spanish state TV was broadcasting live from the scene. A large church bell was also among the rubble. The broadcaster reported that schoolchildren usually gather at that spot around that time, and if it had happened 10 minutes later, a “tragedy” could have occurred.
Spanish TV showed images of cars that were partially crushed by falling rubble, and large cracks in buildings. Nervous groups of residents gathered in open public places, talking about what happened and calling relatives and friends on their cell phones. An elderly woman appeared to be in shock and was seated in a chair as people tried to calm her.
“I felt a tremendously strong movement, followed by a lot of noise, and I was really frightened,” the newspaper El Pas quoted another Lorca resident Juani Avellanada as saying. It did not give her age.
Another resident, Juana Ruiz, said her house split open with the quake and “all the furniture fell over,” according to El Pas.
John Bellini, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, said the larger earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.3 and struck 220 miles south-southeast of Madrid.
The quake was about 6 miles deep, and was preceded by the smaller one, Bellini said. He classified the bigger quake as moderate and said it could cause structural damage to older buildings and masonry.
The quakes occurred in a seismically active area near a large fault beneath the Mediterranean Sea where the European and African continents brush past each other, USGS seismologist Julie Dutton said.
The USGS said it has recorded hundreds of small quakes in the area since 1990.
Daniel Woolls contributed to this report.