By Igor Ilic
ZAGREB (Reuters) – A large earthquake struck near the Croatian capital Zagreb on Sunday, critically injuring a teenager caught in a collapsed building in the city center and prompting appeals for social distancing after people rushed out onto the streets.
Sixteen other people were injured, including another minor who was badly hurt, and the 5.3 magnitude quake caused fires and power blackouts in parts of the capital, hospital and emergency services said.
People ran from their apartment buildings to their cars as pieces of the facades started falling off. Dozens of cars were also damaged by debris which fell off buildings.
Authorities said around 70 buildings were damaged.
Ministers warned people not to walk close to buildings and beware of falling debris due to a strong wind. They also urged them to stay apart from one another as the country struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus.
“We are fighting two enemies at the moment, one is invisible and the other is unpredictable,” Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said.
So far, Croatia has reported 254 cases of the virus and one death.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said the government would provide accommodation in the students’ dormitory in Zagreb for up to 1,800 people whose homes were damaged.
He said the quake was the biggest to hit Zagreb in 140 years. It struck 6 km (4 miles) north of the city and was felt across the Western Balkans.
Zarko Rasic, head of the Zagreb Emergency Medicine Institute, a children’s hospital, said a 15-year-old was in a critical condition after being found by an emergency services team under a collapsed building and another minor had been admitted with head injuries from a falling roof.
The Zagreb Fire Department said firefighting and rescue operations were ongoing at several locations.
Plenkovic said the army had been called in to help clean up debris in Zagreb and urged citizens to “stay outside and keep your distance”.
“We are facing two crises now,” Plenkovic told a news conference. “Let us not forget the coronavirus epidemics … Individual discipline and responsibility is of utmost importance.”
Local media reported that many people had headed out of Zagreb, prompting police to organize checkpoints on the highway to check if they were violating self-isolation.
The German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) downgraded the magnitude of the quake to 5.3 from an initial reading of 6.0. Croatia’s state seismology service said there had been 30 aftershocks.
The government said it would estimate the damage in the coming weeks and ask the European Commission for aid.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured 5.4, while the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) also reported 5.3 magnitude, followed by another 5.1 magnitude earthquake.
(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru, Igor Ilic in Zagreb and Maja Zuvela in Sarajevo; Editing by Sam Holmes/Christopher Cushing/Susan Fenton/Philippa Fletcher)