A series of rare earthquakes rocked the ancient town of Lorca in southeastern Spain on Wednesday causing homes to collapse, damaging historic churches, and killing at least 8 people.
The 5.2 and 4.3 magnitude earthquakes sent tremors through the popular tourist region of Murcia.
Part of the front of a badly-damaged church in the small town collapsed hours after the quake, narrowly missing a television reporter filing a live report.
“The population is scared and are very afraid to return to their homes. The whole of the center of Lorca has been seriously damaged,” Rafael Gonzalez Tovar, delegate from the central government in Murcia Rafael, told national radio. “There are thousands of very disorientated people.”
Television images showed shaken families and children gathering in a square in the town, seeking safety from fallen buildings as masonry and rubble blanketed the streets. “We were just sat here and everything began to move, pictures fell from the wall, the TV fell, and [the quake] went on for ages. We looked out of the window and there were a lot of people running, an ambulance, and the police,” one woman told national radio.
The earthquake struck at 6:47 pm (1647 GMT), according to Spain’s National Geographical Institute data. The US Geological Survey said the epicentre was 1 km below the ground.
A milder quake of 4.3 magnitude had hit the town, which is dependent on farming, shortly beforehand.
The last fatal earthquake to hit Spain was in 1997, when one person was killed, according to the USGS.
Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba will travel to the town on Thursday to examine the damage, the prime minister’s office said. The government mobilized a military task force of 200 servicemen and women to help secure the area, where an estimated 10,000 people have been affected by the quake.
Lorca, which has a population of about 90,000 people, dates back to the Bronze Age and probably gained its name from the Romans. The old part of the town is made up of a network of narrow alleyways.
The town is built in the shadow of a fortress and its many architectural features include a Roman military column, the Church of San Francisco, and medieval walls and gates of San Antonio.
At one point in its history, Lorca was a dangerous border town caught between the Kingdom of Castile and the Moorish Kingdom of Granada. Its Easter Fiesta draws throngs of Spaniards and foreign tourists.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, in Rome, thousands of people stayed away from work and school on Wednesday due to “earthquake fever” over a decades-old prediction that a huge earthquake would destroy Rome on May 11, 2011.
A 6.3 magnitude quake shook central Italy in 2009, killing 295 people, according to the USGS website.