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Death Toll Climbs From Croatia’s Worst Earthquake in 140 Years

Jan Bratanic and Jasmina Kuzmanovic
·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Croatia suffered its worst earthquake in 140 years -- for the second time in 2020 -- with the tremor killing at least seven people, devastating the city at its epicenter and rattling Europeans as far away as Rome and Vienna.

Measured at 6.3 by the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre on Tuesday, it was more powerful than both a 5.2 quake on Monday and a similar-sized tremor that caused $6 billion in damage when it hit the capital of Zagreb in March.

The earthquake brought down buildings near its epicenter in the town of Petrinja, killing seven people, deputy Prime Minister Davor Bozinovic told state TV. Among the dead were a girl who was about 13 years old and a father and son.

Most buildings in Petrinja were damaged so badly they’re now unusable, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said at the scene. Authorities evacuated the hospital in the nearby city of Sisak, and the tremor also damaged structures in Zagreb, where people left their homes to wait out any potential aftershocks.

“2020 has brought us tragedy after tragedy,” Plenkovic said in comments on N1 Television. The broadcaster reported at least 20 people had been hospitalized with injuries, with two in serious condition.

The disaster adds to an already difficult year for the Adriatic European Union member state, which is still busy repairing the 20,000 buildings damaged during the March quake while also tackling one of the bloc’s worst surges in coronavirus cases and a record economic recession.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the temblor was the nation’s strongest since the advent of modern seismic instrumentation, which began to gain prevalence in the 1880s.

It was more powerful than one in 1963 that hit near the former Yugoslav town of Skopje, now the capital of North Macedonia, that killed more than 1,000 people and destroyed 80% of the city.

“This is horrible,” President Zoran Milanovic said while observing the damage in Petrinja. “Pure horror. The army is here, coming to help evacuate people.”

In Petrinja, a city of about 25,000 people that was almost destroyed in the bloody 1991-1995 breakup of Yugoslavia, video footage showed demolished houses and fallen roofs that resembled the damage from the war.

Bozinovic, the deputy premier, said the government was lifting a ban on traveling between counties imposed earlier this month to stop a spike in new cases of Covid-19 so that people whose homes were destroyed could stay with relatives.

The quake also triggered the automatic shutdown of Slovenia’s Krsko nuclear power plant, with that country’s infrastructure minister saying initial checks showed no damage had occurred.

The government set aside an initial 120 million kuna ($19.4 million) in relief funds, Plenkovic said. Both Hungary and Slovenia said they were sending support, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter she’d spoken with Plenkovic and was ready to provide aid.

Janez Lenarcic, the EU’s commissioner for disaster relief, will arrive in Croatia on Wednesday, and he said the bloc was sending help today including winter tents, electric heaters, sleeping bags, and housing containers.

(Updates death toll from first paragraph.)

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