PETRINJA – A series of aftershocks jolted central Croatia on Wednesday, a day after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake killed at least seven people, injured dozens and left several towns and villages in ruins.
Authorities warned that the coronavirus could spread in crowded shelters. Many people are in tents, their cars or military barracks.
The strongest, 4.7-magnitude tremor was recorded near the heavily damaged town of Petrinja, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of the capital, Zagreb.
Neven Pavkovic, a resident, said the aftershocks kept him awake: "It was a rough night, I slept maybe half an hour.”
In the hard-hit village of Majske Poljane, where five people died, a little boy could be seen sleeping in a van on the chilly morning.
Sobbing villagers said they received blankets, food and other aid but don’t know what they will do next. Rain that fell overnight turned the dust from the rubble into mud, adding to the hardship.
“We can’t say ‘Good morning,’ It is not good,” Petrinja mayor Darinko Dumbovic told Croatian radio. “We had the third and fourth tremors this morning, short ones but strong. What hasn’t fallen off before is falling now from the ruins of Petrinja.”
“Fear has crept into people," he said.
Pope Francis prayed for the victims. At the end of his weekly audience, he said: ”I particularly pray for those who died and for their families.”
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said the government will declare Saturday a day of national mourning. As the government abolished a travel ban between counties that was imposed during the holidays because of the coronavirus pandemic, Plenkovic appealed for respect for other measures.
“We are still fighting COVID-19, it wouldn’t be good to relax now,” Plenkovic said at a government session.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had deployed its Croatian staff in the quake-hit area, and warned of the possible spread of the coronavirus amid the emergency.
“Hundreds of people who were forced to leave their homes are accommodated in communal buildings and tents, while others are seeking shelter in different parts of the country, increasing the risk of transmission," a statement said.
Croatian officials said a 12-year-old girl died in Petrinja, a town of some 25,000 people. At least 26 people were hospitalized with injuries.
Tuesday's quake, the strongest in Croatia since the introduction of the modern seismic measurement system, was felt throughout the region, including neighboring Bosnia, Serbia and Slovenia.
The central Croatian region was also struck by a 5.2 earthquake on Monday.
AP writers Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia, and Colleen Barry from Milan.