Quake town unlucky says seismologist

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A town in southern Spain was "unlucky" to have been hit by an earthquake which killed eight people and caused extensive damage, according to a seismologist.

The quake rocked Lorca in the Murcia region of the country yesterday afternoon, causing rubble to crash down on to the streets and large cracks to appear in buildings.

Striking at 6.47pm local time (5.47pm BST), the earthquake registered magnitude 5.2 on the Richter scale, and followed a smaller magnitude 4.4 shock two hours before.

Roger Musson, a seismologist at the British Geological Survey, said: "It's only really caused such damage because it was so shallow and the epicentre was so close to the town of Lorca.

"A magnitude 5.2 is not that big - it's not considered a large earthquake."

The expert said the quake's epicentre was in the hills around three or four miles to the south west of Lorca, but was less than two miles deep.

He explained that earthquakes normally strike at a depth of between six and 12 miles, and the shocks are more dispersed.

"On average there are probably about 1,000 magnitude 5 earthquakes every year, which is around three per day," he said.

"They mostly happen in the sea, or in remote places. It's only when you get one in a place like this where you get significant damage.

"It's certainly unlucky for the people of Lorca to get one so close and shallow."

A Murcia regional government statement said eight people, including one child, died in the quakes.

Dozens of injured people were treated at the scene and a field hospital was set up in the town with a population of around 85,000.

About 270 patients at a hospital in Lorca were evacuated by ambulance as a precaution after the building sustained minor damage, the Murcia government said.

Spanish television showed images of cars partially crushed by falling rubble, and large cracks in buildings.

A reporter making a live broadcast narrowly avoided being hit by huge chunks of stone and brick falling from the facade of a church.

The church's large bell was seen crashing to the ground near the journalist, who appeared to be about 30ft away when it fell.

Many residents spent the night camped out in parks and other open spaces, fearing aftershocks and because of structural damage to their homes.

Mr Musson added: "Spain is not a very seismically active country, but the most active part is the region that was struck."

The expert said the buildings in the area would probably not be built to withstand earthquakes of this scale.

Britons living in the region have been telling of their experiences.

Neil Broadbridge, a businessman who lives near the town, told Sky News: "We had a walk around the city centre last night, as much as we could, and it was horrendous.

"There was considerable damage to pretty much every building, I would say.

"There was not one block of flats or one building that hasn't shown some sort of damage.

"There's debris, rubble, tiles, all across the floor.

"There are cars crushed and we witnessed the unfortunate scene of a deceased person lying on the floor covered with a sheet."