More Fatalities Feared in Spain Earthquake

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. An earthquake hit the town of Lorca in Southern Spain today. The quake toppled some buildings and caused debris to fall from others. Reports from Lorca say a number of people died; the exact number of people is not yet known. The BBC's Sara Rainsford is in Madrid. Sara, apparently this quake was large enough to be felt in Madrid. What is known about the extent of the damage?

Sara Rainsford: Well, there were actually two earthquakes, about two hours apart. The first one came at around 5 o'clock in the evening local time and lasted for eight seconds. And then, a couple of hours later, there was a much shorter earthquake, but that's the one that was more powerful. That was registering 5.2 on the Richter scale, and that's when the most damage was caused. You mentioned debris falling, that's what we believe has killed most of the people who've lost their lives in this earthquake. We, I've seen some very dramatic pictures from the town of Lorca where the church there on the main town square, the bell tower from that church became detached from the building and crashed to the ground just meters away from the Spanish television cameraman there. So you can get an idea from that just how dangerous this earthquake was. It is, I understand, the worst earthquake in Spain since 1956, so, I was just speaking to one lady and she said, ââ?¬Å?I've never experienced an earthquake in my lifetime.ââ?¬  They do happen in Spain, but they're not rare, and certainly it's very rare for one to cause so many fatalities.

Werman: So the worst one since 1956. Is this an area known for having a lot of seismic activity?
Rainsford: Well, it's certainly the area which is the most seismically active in Spain, but as I say, big earthquakes and ones that cause fatalities are not common here. There are shakes and tremors every so often. This time, I wasn't sure myself, but I've thought about it now and I felt the quake here in Madrid, the one that happened just before seven o'clock. I felt like my chair was moving, I felt perhaps a little bit drunk. I wasn't sure what was happening. It was an hour later that we got the news about what has happened in Muthia. I spoke to colleagues here in the building and they said they felt the same things. So, 5.2 on the Richter scale as far away as Muthia, which is down in the southeast of the country, I'm here in Central Madrid and we felt it here, so it's really, shocked people here in Spain, certainly with the number of fatalities.
Werman: It's a bit early to say, perhaps, but what's been the government response?

Rainsford: Well, the Prime Minister has ordered a military unit down locally there to help the local, the neighboring province of Valencia have also sent soldiers in to help. We know that, for example, the local hospital in Lorca has been evacuated as a precaution. That's not too seriously damaged but the doctors there say the patients are extremely nervous and for their own safety they've been moved to other medical facilities. Many local people, residents of course and people who were at work at the time have gathered out in open spaces and squares in the streets to make sure that they're safe. They're told in Lorca town itself, which is at the heart of this quake to stay outside for the moment until they get the all-clear, that it's safe to go back inside. But certainly Lorca, this town of some 70,000 inhabitants, has been the worst, the most badly affected by the quake.

Werman: The BBC's Sara Rainsford in Madrid.