Postcard from... Spain

 

Among the endless, seemingly tranquil, sea of olive tree groves that stretch across north-east Andalusia, tension in the tiny town of Torreperogil is high. The reason? A spate of mini-earthquakes, with 150 tremors striking in the past 10 days.

Measuring up to 3.6 on the Richter scale, locals complain they cannot sleep because of the quakes. One local pub owner said he thought there had been a gas explosion when a 3.3-strength tremor rocked his building at 5am. With nerves understandably jittery, the mayor has now hired a van with a loudspeaker to patrol the streets at night, telling the population to stay calm. Some, though, have already packed their bags and left. The frequency of the quakes continues to increase. In yesterday's first 12 hours there were 14, and one of Torreperogil's primary schools was closed yesterday after cracks appeared in the walls.

Last year's earthquake in the town of Lorca, the worst in Spain since 1956, which killed nine people and injured 100, is at the back of everybody's minds. But while the Lorca quake was linked by some scientists to excessive local extraction of groundwater, in Torreperogil, some 300 kilometres further west, the cause is less clear.

Near the town's cemetery, a mobile unit sent from Spain's National Geographic Institute is working flat out to try to detect the reason for the sudden, surprising, spate of earthquakes. For now, Torreperogil is keeping its fingers crossed that Lorca's history will not repeat itself.

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