Thousands have fled the small agricultural city of Lorca, fearing destruction by major aftershocks after the country’s deadliest earthquakes in 55 years killed nine people and caused extensive damage.
Lorca was transformed into a ghost town, with a steady stream of cars carrying many of its 90,000 residents to nearby cities and towns to stay with relatives.
Stores, restaurants and schools were closed as the sirens of police vehicles and ambulances filled the air and helicopters hovered overhead.
Spain’s government has promised to set up a shelter to house 3,500 people.
The two quakes prompted an estimated 30,000 residents to sleep in cars, shelters fashioned from cardboard boxes and lawn chairs at makeshift camps in parks in the city about 30km inland from Mediterranean Sea beach destinations where little to no damage was reported.
Only a few buildings were destroyed, but the quakes with magnitudes of 4.5 and 5.1, according to Spain’s National Geographic Institute, sent brick building facades and parts of terraces plunging into the streets and caused damage to hundreds of apartment buildings.
While some people could not stay home, many others did not want to stay inside for fear of aftershocks.
“The whole facade and the stairs of the apartment where I live are totally broken,” said resident Tomas Hinojo. “The hardest things happened right where I live. Three of the victims killed are my neighbours.”
The Spanish institute said the second, larger quake was followed by 37 aftershocks lasting through yesterday morning. The largest was about half an hour after midnight and measured 3.9.
Spanish experts said the second quake caused the most damage, and its power was more destructive than many quakes of similar magnitude because its epicentre was on the outskirts of Lorca and because it happened at the very shallow depth of about 966m below ground.
“That is very, very close to the surface,” said Spanish National Research Council geologist Maria Jose Jurado Rodriguez. “That energy goes very directly to the inhabited area.”
The soil in the Murcia region where Lorca lies is loose and sandy, meaning it could not absorb earthquake energy as well as places that have more compact soil, said Geological and Mining Institute Murcia branch head Ramon Aragon Rueda.