Thursday, May 12, 2011

Spain Gauges the Damage as Quake Death Toll Hits 9

The New York Times: Spain Gauges the Damage as Quake Death Toll Hits 9

MADRID — The death toll reached nine Thursday from two earthquakes that injured dozens of people and damaged about a tenth of the buildings in the southeast Spanish town of Lorca.

Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said “no economic means will be spared for the reconstruction of Lorca.” He was expected to visit the town on Friday, and Spain’s politicians interrupted their campaigns for municipal and regional elections that were to be held May 22.

The second earthquake, which measured 5.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, was felt as far away as Madrid. The first, less than two hours earlier, was measured at a magnitude of 4.5. Their epicenters were a few kilometers outside Lorca, in a region that has long been considered among the most vulnerable to quakes in the Iberian Peninsula because of its proximity to a large fault beneath the Mediterranean.

Luis Eugenio Suárez, president of the Spanish College of Geologists, said in a statement that a quake of that magnitude “does not have sufficient intensity to produce a collapsing effect,” which therefore must lead to the conclusion that “the damages caused must have been due to previous damages.”

Some of the buildings that suffered the most serious damage were in the medieval center of Lorca, including a church, where the bell tower and part of the facade fell only meters away from a Spanish national television reporter as he was broadcasting. But television footage also showed that more modern constructions had been partly destroyed.

Still, Mayor Francisco Jódar said initial inspections by architects and engineers suggested that 90 percent of the homes in Lorca did not suffer any structural damage during the quakes.

Thousands of people left their homes because of the risk of additional tremors, and many of them were expected to spend a second night on Thursday in tents and other makeshift accommodation. Altogether, more than two dozen tremors were felt in Lorca into the early hours of Thursday.

Spain is hit by about 2,500 quakes a year, but only about two a month are strong enough to be felt, according to the National Geographic Institute.

An earthquake of magnitude 4.8 struck near Lorca in 2006, without fatalities.

The army sent about 420 troops to Lorca to help local rescue teams search for possible victims and to provide medical assistance.

The death toll was raised to nine on Thursday, from eight late Wednesday, after a woman died of her injuries. An additional 41 people were hospitalized and 293 suffered lighter injuries, the local authorities said.

The quakes were the most deadly in Spain since 1956, when 12 people died near Granada in the south.

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