Thousands sleep outside after Spain's deadliest quakes in 50 years

THOUSANDS of people have spent the night outdoors in the south-eastern Spanish city of Lorca in fear of further tremors after Spain's most destructive earthquakes in 50 years killed eight people and injured dozens more.

• People spent the night outside their homes in Lorca, Spain. Picture: AP

The epicentre of the quakes - with magnitudes of 4.4 and 5.2 - was close to the town, and the second came about two hours after the first, an official with the Murcia regional government said.

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People draped in blankets to protect them from the morning cold queued up for hot drinks handed out by volunteers at the five makeshift camps set up in the town that was hit by the two quakes.

A Murcia regional government statement said eight people, including one child, had died in the quakes which seriously damaged many buildings and squashed cars yesterday. A total of 167 people were treated in hospitals in the town.

Officials had initially put the death toll at 10.

A statement said three people were in a serious condition.

People slept in cardboard boxes and tents, while hundreds of others lay down on the ground with nothing more than their clothes and blankets to protect them.

As dawn broke, many people began returning to their homes to pick up belongings. Others wandered about the streets taking photographs of the damage with their mobile phones.

Many railings and walls of rooftop balconies came crashing to the ground in the quakes.

Large chunks of stone and brick fell from the facade of a church as a reporter for Spanish state TV was broadcasting live from the scene when the earthquake struck shortly after 7pm. A large church bell was also among the rubble, which just missed striking the reporter.

Television images showed cars that were crushed by falling rubble, and large cracks in buildings.

Prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero halted campaigning for upcoming regional and municipal elections in Spain to oversee an emergency committee set up to co-ordinate rescue and relief operations. He was to visit the city today along with deputy premier Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba and defence minister Carme Chacon.

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This was the deadliest quake in Spain since 1956, when 12 people died and 70 were injured in a quake in the southern Granada region, according to the National Geographic Institute.

It says Spain has about 2,500 quakes a year, but only a handful are noticed by people. Spain's south and south-east are the most earthquake-prone regions.