Spain mourns quake victims with thousands homeless

Two days of mourning have been declared for the nine dead, including a child.

Updated: May 13, 2011, 16:23 PM IST

Lorca: Spain on Friday mourned the nine people killed when an earthquake wrecked swathes of the historic southern city of Lorca and forced thousands to flee their homes.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero headed to Lorca to visit the most devastated areas and attend a funeral mass, along with Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia.

Two days of mourning have been declared for the nine dead, including a child, who perished when the quake tore down walls and sent chunks of masonry and bricks flying into the streets. Some buildings were flattened.

The Red Cross said the quake forced some 15,000 of the city`s 93,000 inhabitants from their homes.

Thousands spent their second night away from their residences. But unlike Thursday, when they shivered under blankets outdoors, most were able to sleep in hundreds of tents supplied by the Red Cross and the military.

The Red Cross admitted they still lacked enough fold-up canvas beds for all the homeless, many of them poor immigrants from Latin America and north Africa unable to find alternative lodging.

"We had to treat many who were suffering from the cold as they slept in the open air," said Enrique Garcia, a Red Cross coordinator.

Melina, a 33-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant who declined to give her last name, said she slept in a Red Cross tent, but her husband and son spent the night outdoors on plastic chairs.

"Sleeping in a bed was better but I feel really bad," she said as she waited in line for breakfast rations in the main marketplace.

"It`s not the same as sleeping at home," said Segundo Mendoza, 39, an Ecuadorian father of two. "The tent wasn`t warm enough, there was no water, we suffered a lot."

He said his family was still unable to return to their flat, which was a "disaster" after the quake.

The 5.1-magnitude earthquake struck at 6:47 pm (1647 GMT) Wednesday at a depth of just 10 kilometres (six miles), coming nearly two hours after a smaller 4.4-magnitude quake.

Ripping open walls, toppling roofs and crushing cars under tumbling stones, the tremor injured another 130 people, regional emergency services chief Luis Gestoso said.

Bulldozers cleared streets filled with stones, bricks, cornices, collapsed terraces and crumpled cars.

Some 20,000 buildings including many from the 16th and 17th centuries were reported damaged in Lorca, which traces its history back more than 2,000 years.

Mayor Francisco Jodar said 80 percent of the city`s buildings suffered some damage.

The clocktower of the 17th century San Diego Church tumbled and shattered in the street, narrowly missing a television reporter as he delivered a report on Spanish public broadcaster TVE. Its bronze bell lay in the rubble.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said on Thursday that authorities could provide 3,500 places for the night in four tent camps. "If necessary, we can add another 1,500 places," he said.

The government has sent in 800 military and police, equipped with 140 vehicles to help clear the debris.

Emergency workers are checking building by building to decide which can be repaired and which will have to be demolished.

The president of Spain`s College of Geologists, Luis Suarez, said the quake released energy equal to 200 tonnes of TNT and he expected the intensity of aftershocks to diminish.

He blamed structural weaknesses in the buildings and sandy soil for exacerbating the damages.

Zapatero and his conservative Popular Party opponent Mariano Rajoy have agreed to suspend campaigning for regional elections on May 22 because of the disaster.

It was the deadliest earthquake in Spain since April 19, 1956, when a tremor wrecked buildings and killed 11 people in Albolote, a town in the southern Spanish province of Granada.

Bureau Report