By Vesna Bernardic
Zagreb, Mar 22 (efe-epa).- Croatia’s capital was rocked by two strong earthquakes on Sunday causing panic, serious damage and several injuries amid a partial coronavirus lockdown.
The quakes were between 5.0 and 5.5 degrees on the Richter scale.
The first and strongest earthquake jolted the inhabitants of Zagreb out of their beds at around 6:30 am (05:30 GMT), followed by a second tremor half an hour later.
In the following hours, several more aftershocks were felt although they were considerably milder.
Thousands of citizens panicked and flooded the streets, including many patients from major hospitals caring for people with Covid-19 infections.
The Interior Ministry recommended that citizens leave their homes as a precaution against the danger of new and stronger aftershocks.
Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic took to Twitter to urge people on the streets to keep a social distance from each other as the country struggles with the spread of the coronavirus.
“The situation is contradictory, we invited people to stay at home to avoid spreading of the coronavirus, and now we are advising them to leave their homes,” Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said.
A maternity clinic decided to carry out deliveries scheduled for the day in open-air ambulances, while dozens of mothers with newborn babies took to the streets amid unusual low temperatures of just 4 degrees.
An undetermined number of people were injured when fragments of buildings and roofs collapsed. A 15-year-old girl is in a critical condition, authorities said.
Zagreb Cathedral, the tallest building in the city, suffered damage to its tower, the tip of which broke and collapsed in front of Cardinal and Archbishop Josip Bozanic’s home.
In another nearby church, the ceiling crumpled, leaving the interior of the basilica full of rubble.
According to Croatian authorities, the epicentre of the tremor was 7 kilometres north of Zagreb, at a depth of only 10 kilometres, which would explain the extensive damage to numerous buildings in the city centre.
The earthquake was felt in neighbouring Slovenia and southern Austria as well.
Plenkovic said Sunday’s earthquake “was the most serious in Croatia in the last 140 years.”
Due to the damage suffered, numerous power and water cuts occurred, as well as some fires, which could be controlled in a short time.
Minister of Public Health Vili Beros urged citizens to be cautious and comply with the rules of social distancing to avoid a boom in Covid-19 infections.
“The danger of the coronavirus is greater than that of a new earthquake,” the minister warned.
Croatia has so far registered 235 coronavirus cases – 29 more than Saturday – with one death to date.