Two earthquakes have struck south-east Spain in quick succession, killing at least three people and causing major damage to buildings, an official said.
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.
Large chunks of stone and brick fell from the facade of a church in Lorca as Spanish state TV was broadcasting live from the scene. Nervous groups of residents gathered in public places, talking about what happened and calling relatives and friends on their mobile phones.
The official said at least three people were killed.
A seismologist with the US Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Centre in Golden, Colorado, said the larger earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.3 and struck 220 miles (350 kilometres) south-southeast of Madrid.
The quake was about 10 kms (six miles) deep, and was preceded by the smaller one with a magnitude 4.5 in the same spot.
He classified the bigger quake as moderate and said it could cause structural damage to older buildings and masonry.
The quakes occurred in a seismically active area near a large fault beneath the Mediterranean where the European and African continents brush past each other.
Later the prime minister’s office put the death toll at seven but did not say how many people were injured, although news reports said there were many.
The Murcia regional government said a hospital in Lorca was being evacuated, dozens of injured people were being treated at the scene and a field hospital was being set up.
It said the seven deaths included a minor and occurred with the second, stronger quake.
Spanish TV showed images of cars that were partially crushed by falling rubble, and large cracks in buildings.
“I felt a tremendously strong movement, followed by a lot of noise, and I was really frightened,” the newspaper El Pais quoted Lorca resident Juani Avellanada as saying. It did not give her age.
Another resident, Juana Ruiz, said her house split open with the quake and “all the furniture fell over,” according to El Pais.