Croatia's Zagreb rocked by powerful earthquake
A strong earthquake in Croatia on Sunday, 22 March 2020, caused panic, the evacuation of hospitals and widespread damage including to the capital's iconic cathedral, all amid a partial COVID-19 lockdown. A 15-year-old was reported to be in critical condition and 16 others were injured, authorities said. German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) said the earthquake, which was felt across the Western Balkans, struck at a depth of 10km (six miles). It downgraded the magnitude to 5,3 from an initial reading of 6,0. “It lasted over 10 seconds. By far the strongest I have ever felt,” one witness said, adding that it was followed by several aftershocks. The US Geological Survey said the earthquake measured 5,4, while the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) also reported a magnitude 5,3, followed by another magnitude 5,1 earthquake. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said the earthquake was the biggest in Zagreb in the last 140 years. It caused widespread damage including to the city's iconic cathedral, with the top of one of its two spires collapsing, all amid a partial COVID-19 lockdown. Downtown streets were littered with debris. Concrete slabs fell on cars and chimneys landed in front of entrances.
Mothers dressed in nightgowns were hugging their new-born babies in a car park as they evacuated a damaged maternity hospital amid freezing temperatures. The women, new-born babies and incubators were being moved to a new location with the help of the army.
In Zagreb, people fled apartments and took to the streets while parts of the capital experienced electricity cuts. A church bell tower was damaged and some buildings collapsed. Several fires were also reported. Residents shared photos of belongings falling off shelves, broken bottles and glass inside homes. Officials first said a 15-year-old was killed, but doctors later said she was in critical condition and they were fighting to save her life. They gave no immediate details on the extent of other injuries.
Croatia's Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic issued an appeal on Twitter for people in the streets to keep a social distance from each other as the country struggles to contain the spread of the COVID-19. So far, Croatia has confirmed 206 cases of the virus and one death. Up to five people are allowed to be together while keeping distance.
The prime minister urged the citizens to remain calm and stay outside their homes in the central parts of Zagreb, which sustained the most damage. “We have two parallel crises that contradict each other,” Plenkovic, the prime minister, said after an emergency meeting of Croatia's top officials. Some residents have gathered in a local park, to protect themselves from potential aftershocks. “In these situations of increased fear, it's understandable that some people aren't currently thinking about COVID-19, which creates an additional problem for the whole situation,” Brekalo said.
Croatian soldiers wearing masks and carrying shovels could be seen helping efforts to clear the damage on the streets of Zagreb.
Top officials toured the damaged areas as some citizens criticised city authorities over the poor states of buildings in the old part of the city, some of which date back to the 19th Century. “We will try to clear the streets as soon as possible,” Plenkovic said. “Stay outside your homes and keep distance.”
Interior Minister Bozinovic said the situation was complicated by the restrictive virus-related measures in place. “There are rules for when there is an earthquake but when there is an earthquake at the same time when there is a global pandemic, then it's a much more complex situation,” Bozinovic said.
More than 100 Croatian Red Cross volunteers are providing urgent assistance and shelter for people on the streets of Zagreb. Immediately after the earthquake, Croatian Red Cross teams distributed water and blankets for patients and new-borns who were displaced from a central city maternity hospital. Red Cross volunteers have set up six tents around hospitals in Zagreb and a tent city at French Republic Square, which can accommodate up to 500 people. The tents will also shelter people who do not want to return home, as aftershocks continue to rock the city. People are being provided with food, water, tea and blankets. The Croatian Red Cross headquarters sustained minor damage.
The Executive President of Croatian Red Cross, Robert Markt, said all measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 are being observed in the tent city. “The situation is very challenging because we are dealing with both an earthquake and the COVID-19 outbreak,” Markt said. “We are aware that people are scared and that is why Red Cross teams will patrol the streets of the city to help as many people as possible and provide psychosocial support. “Of course, we also need to remind citizens of the importance of protecting against the spread of COVID-19. For now, we have the situation under control.”
An additional 100 Red Cross volunteers are visiting the elderly and those in self-isolation for COVID-19, bringing the total number of volunteers to 200. Markt said the Red Cross is ready for further action when Croatia’s Civil Protection Authority determines what is needed.
Source: International Federation of Red Cross and Aljazeera