TWO earthquakes struck southeast Spain in quick succession yesterday, killing at least 10 people, injuring dozens and causing major damage to buildings.
It was the highest quake-related death toll in Spain in more than 50 years.
The epicentre 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.
Dozens of injured people were being treated at the scene and a field hospital was set up in the town of about 85,000 people. About 270 patients at a hospital in Lorca were being evacuated by ambulance as a precaution after the building sustained minor damage.
The Spanish prime minister's office put the death toll at 10 and the Murcia administration said the 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 a reporter for Spanish state TV was broadcasting live from the scene. A large church bell was also among the rubble, which missed striking the reporter. 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.
"I felt a tremendously strong movement, followed by a lot of noise, and I was really frightened," one woman said.
Another resident said her house split open with the quake and "all the furniture fell over'.'
Many spent the night camped out in parks and other open spaces, fearing aftershocks and because of structural damage to their homes.
This was the deadliest quake in Spain since 1956, when 12 people died and some 70 were injured in a quake in the Granada region.
The National Geographic Institute says Spain has about 2,500 quakes a year, but only a handful are actually noticed by people. The south and southeast are the most earthquake-prone regions.
The quake was about 10 kilometres deep and was preceded by the smaller one with a 4.5 magnitude in the same spot.
Lorca has a mix of buildings that are vulnerable to earthquakes and quake-resistant.
The two 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, a US seismologist said.