Two Earthquakes Shake Lorca, Spain and Cause Eight Deaths

Lorca Earthquake
A disconsolate woman weeps while a man attends to someone after the earthquake. Photo by Israel Sánchez of EFE.

Two Earthquakes Shake Lorca, Spain and Cause Eight Deaths
The tremors caused widespread damage in the Murcian town. The government has mobilized the Emergency National Guard.
El País: Dos terremotos sacuden Lorca y causan ocho muertos
Javier Ruiz and Tono Calleja reporting from Murcia and Madrid, repectively, May 11, 2011

Eight people have died and dozens have been injured this afternoon in Lorca, Murcia, Spain after a magnitude 5.1 earthquake which was preceded by a magnitude 4.5 seismic movement, the government has confirmed. One of the dead was a minor. Government delegate Rafael González Tovar has rectified the number after saying before that there were eight deaths; another two people are in very grave condition. The count of the injured has increased to the 50s.

The epicenter has been identified as the Tercia mountain range at the outer limits of the Murcian city. The earthquake has caused further damage 5 to 10 kilometers northeast of the urban center, near the Murcian highway.  It was strongly felt in various towns of the region, like the capital (Murcia), Mazarrón, Cartagena, and Águilas, and it was also noted in other provinces like Almería, Albacete, and Madrid.

It appears the A-7 is the only state highway affected. Until 11:00 PM, traffic was diverted to the AP-7 free of charge in the heights of Totana. There have been minor damages in some tunnels and viaducts. The DGT has asked that drivers avoid the area, and the government has mobilized the Emergency National Guard.

As for rail traffic, there have been problems with Cercanías line C-2, between the cities of Murcia and Lorca, and the long-distance Barcelona-Lorca route. According to Renfe, only 70 people have been affected.

Of the eight fatalities, at least three were caused by falling cornices, according to news agency La Verdad. Dozens of patients in the Rafael Méndez de Lorca were injured and have been transferred to other health centers in Murcia, Cartagena, and Cieza. City Hall has authorized a ship in the area where the Lorca Fair is usually celebrated as a sleeping place for residents whose homes have been damaged.

Many residents are still in the street because they fear other buildings will collapse. “I felt a very strong movement, it was really noisy, and I was frightened,” said Juani Avellaneda. Numerous jars and the cornice were broken in her home. Juana Ruiz suffered a similar fate: her home has been been split open. “My entire house was opened, and all my movable objects have fallen,” said the terrified woman, who was inside her home when the tremor happened. “We’re doing very badly,” said her nephew with distress just before hanging up the phone.

A resident of Juan Carlos I Avenue said there are cracks in the building; “everyone is in the street, and cell phones aren’t working.” The bell tower and part of the ceiling of Our Lady of La Virgen de las Huertas church have fallen; the historic castle of Lorca has suffered damages; pieces of cornices have fallen, for example those of the Palace of Saint Julian.

The ceiling fell apart and residents were evacuated from a nursing home in the Alameda district. The mayor of Lorca, Francisco Jódar, has announced that fallen flagstones and cornices have been registered in the urban area, and city hall has activated the emergency earthquake plan of the Autonomous Community of Murcia (Sismimur). All emergency services have been activated.

Murcia belongs to the most seismically active area in Spain. The director of the national seismic network of the National Geographic Institute, Emilio Carreño, has explained that there are “short east-west and northeast-southeast faults” in the area. At 5:05 PM, there was a magnitude 4.5 tremor northeast of Lorca, and at 6:47 another quake of magnitude 5.1. Carreño explained that while there have been damages, they have been “very superficial,” albeit there is the potential for an earthquake up to magnitude 6.5 in this area. Carreño says the tremor was felt in some parts of Madrid like the Plaza de Castilla and the town of Vallecas, which stand on gypsum, terrain which amplifies shaking.

In 2005, there was a magnitude 4.6 earthquake whose epicenter was the higher-altitude communities of Lorca and Bullas; two Murcian municipalities were shaken, and although no injuries were noted, homes were significantly damaged. The earthquake was also felt in the provinces of Almería, Granada, Jaén, Albacete, Ciudad Real, Alicante, and Valencia. The National Geographic Institute classified the event as “lightly damaging” and said that there was a magnitude 3.4 aftershock 10 minutes later which was felt in all of Murcia. 31 more aftershocks of lesser magnitude were registered later.

The earthquake on Wednesday in Lorca was the worst in Spain in 30 years.

After hearing the news, the political parties immediately suspended their campaigns in Murcia for the May 22 elections. At the last hour before midnight, Zapatero and Rajoy agreed to halt campaigns throughout Spain for Thursday and go to the disaster zone.

The vice president, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, and the Minister of Defense, Carme Chacón, will also arrive in Lorca in the first hour of the morning to evaluate the damage produced in the area and peremptory necessities. The electoral committee of the Socialist Party will decide in the coming hours the changes to its campaign on account of the Lorca earthquake.

In addition, the Minister of Public Works and Transport, José Blanco, cut short a meeting in the town of Langreo, Asturias, to return to Madrid and evaluate infrastructure damage with his team, according to Anabel Díez.

The Autonomous Community of Murcia has decided to suspend classes in all the state’s schools and institutes on Thursday, and it will not authorize reopenings until it has evaluated the buildings for damage.

The UME Sends 350 Troops by F.J. Barroso
A total of 350 troops from the Third Batallion of the Emergency National Guard (UME) headquartered in Betera, Valencia were send to Lorca, a spokesman has confirmed. Their mission is search and rescue, although other objectives could be added as the day continues.

The first to leave were 25 troops from the first intervention group. That was a little before 8 PM, according to a spokesman for the UME, and they were expected to arrive within an hour.

The troops will be stationed according to the requests of the Murcian regional government and the national government delegation in the region. UME sources said that they are prepared to send more troops if necessary after they arrive and evaluate the region’s needs.

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