Magnitude 6.3 earthquake strikes Croatia; 2 deaths reported

Croatian Soldiers walk on wreckage next to damaged buildings in Petrinja, some 50kms from Zagreb, after the town was hit by an earthquake of the magnitude of 6,4 on December 29, 2020. - The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years

A strong earthquake hit central Croatia on Tuesday, destroying buildings and sending panicked people fleeing into rubble-covered streets in a town southeast of the capital. Authorities said two people, including a girl, were killed and at least 20 people were injured.

The European Mediterranean Seismological Center said a magnitude 6.3 quake hit 46 kilometers (28 miles) southeast of Zagreb. Reports said it caused widespread damage in the hardest-hit town of Petrinja. The same area was struck by a 5.2 quake on Monday.

Officials said a 12-year-old girl died in Petrinja, a town of some 25,000 people. At least 20 people were hospitalized, two with serious injuries, they said. Another person was killed in a village close to the town.

"The center of Petrinja as it used to be no longer exists," Croatria's state HRT television reported, saying people remained inside collapsed buildings.

"My town has been completely destroyed. We have dead children," Petrinja Mayor Darinko Dumbovic said in a statement broadcast by HRT TV. "This is like Hiroshima - half of the city no longer exists."

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and other government ministers arrived in Petrinja after the earthquake.

"The biggest part of central Petrinja is in a red zone, which means that most of the buildings are not usable," Plenkovic said.

He said the army has 500 places ready in barracks to house people, while others will be accommodated in nearby hotels and other places.

"No one must stay out in the cold tonight," the prime minister said.

Officials later toured a damaged hospital in the nearby town of Sisak, which was also badly hit by the earthquake.

Plenkovic said the hospital's patients will be evacuated in army helicopters and in ambulances. Health officials said a baby was delivered in a tent in front of the hospital in the aftermath of the earthquake.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter that she spoke with Plenkovic and instructed an envoy to travel to Croatia as soon as possible.

As a Mediterranean country, Croatia is prone to earthquakes, but not big ones. The last strong quake struck in the 1990s when the picturesque Adriatic coast village of Ston was destroyed.

Regional TV channel N1 reported from Petrinja that a collapsed building had fallen on a car. The footage showed firefighters trying to remove the debris. A man and a small boy eventually were rescued from the car and carried into an ambulance.

Fallen bricks and dust littered the streets as emergency teams used rescue dogs while looking for survivors in the rubble. A woman was found alive some four hours after the earthquake, rescuers said.

The Croatian military was deployed in Petrinja to help with the rescue operation.

Croatian seismologist Kresimir Kuk described the earthquake as "extremely strong," far stronger than another one that hit Zagreb and nearby areas in the spring. He warned people to keep out of potentially shaky old buildings and move to newer areas of the city because of aftershocks.

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In the capital, people ran into the streets in fear.

The earthquake was felt throughout the country and in neighboring Serbia, Bosnia and Slovenia. It was felt as far away as Graz in southern Austria, the Austria Press Agency reported.

Authorities in Slovenia said the Krsko nuclear power plant was temporarily shut down following the earthquake. The power plant is jointly owned by Slovenia and Croatia and located near their border.

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