A magnitude 6.4 earthquake shook central Croatia on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, with local rescue teams reporting major damage near the epicenter in the town of Petrinja and surrounding areas.
The extent of the casualties was unknown. There were reports that the quake, which occurred just after noon local time, could be felt across the Balkans and as far as Hungary.
Petrinja Mayor Darinko Dumbovic told local broadcaster N1 that ‘the city has been destroyed and at least one person has been killed, a 12-year-old girl with whose body he said he walked past on the street.
“It’s a disaster,” he said. “My city is completely destroyed.”
“We need firefighters, we do not know what is under the surfaces, a roof fell on a car, we need help,” he said in an emotional telephone interview of the scene broadcast on Croatian state television is.
“Mothers cry for their children,” he said.
Images of the scene on social media and local television stations showed streets littered with rubbish, buildings with sunken roofs and rescue teams rushing through the streets. In one scene captured by local television men, a man and a child were pulled from a car buried under rubble and rushed to hospital.
The mayor told local reporters that he did not know the condition of the two people.
“I also heard that the nursery school had collapsed,” he said. “But fortunately there were no children in the building at the time,” he said.
Petrinja is about 30 kilometers southeast of Zagreb, the capital, where buildings were shaken and debris strewn with broken windows and damaged structures in the streets.
The Red Cross in Croatia said it was a “very serious” situation.
It was the second earthquake to hit the area in the past day, after a 5.2 magnitude earthquake damaged buildings on Monday morning and triggered anxiety in a region with a history of seismic activity.
It came just hours after Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and President Zoran Milanovic toured downtown Petrinja to investigate the damage of the first earthquake.
While the first quake sustained no injuries, Mayor Dumbovic said many buildings were damaged and put them in a precarious condition when the second earthquake struck.
He said there had been several small earthquakes in the past few days and that many residents were afraid to spend the night in their homes.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said she had asked Janez Lenarcic, the European Commissioner for Crisis Management, to be ready to travel to Croatia to provide assistance.
The region is prone to earthquakes, and experts have warned that the Balkan countries in south-eastern Europe do not face the risks posed by obsolete buildings.
While many of the towns and villages date back hundreds of years, a building boom that took place in the 1990s, during the transition to capitalism from communism, saw structures built without regard to safety standards.
As a result, millions of people live in homes that are unlikely to survive a major earthquake, experts say.
In Croatia, the scars of earthquakes are still visible in places like Dubrovnik, where in 1667 almost a third of the city was leveled and more than 5,000 people died.
Alisa Dogramadzieva and Joe Orovic reported.