By Jon Clarke in Malaga
THOUSANDS of people have fled the Murcia city of Lorca after at least ten people were killed in a violent earthquake.
The streets were described as “being eerily quiet” this evening, as residents – and holidaymakers, many of them British – left the coastal town for the outskirts of the city to escape falling masonry.
They also feared a new earthquake after two seismic episodes – of 4.4 and 5.2 grade – rocked the town just two hours apart.
Buildings collapsed and pedestrians and cars were showered with masonry, from the second quake that lasted for around 20 seconds.
“It was the most scary 20 seconds of my life,” said Christina Selva, 32, who had been playing with her two small children when the earthquake struck.
“As soon as I could I dived under the kitchen table to try and sit it out. It was terrifying.”
Another resident Paloma Sanz told newspaper El Pais: “We are very worried and really fear going back in case there is another quake.”
She added: “The first one was more gently and lasted longer, while the second was much more violent.”
The biggest earthquake to strike Spain for 50 years struck at a depth of just 1km, near the town of Lorca at 6.50pm Spanish time.
Hundreds of historic buildings have been damaged, including the bell tower of one ancient church the Sanctuario Virgin de las Huertas in the city.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero has called a national emergency and deployed rescue workers and 350 soldiers to the southern city.
It is not clear how many people were injured, although Spanish media say there are dozens.
The Spanish Interior Ministry reported that 10 people were confirmed dead at around 10pm Spanish time. At least one of them was a child.
Shocked residents and workers rushed out of buildings and gathered in squares, parks and open spaces. Lines of cars lay crushed under tonnes of rubble and a hospital was evacuated as a precaution.
A doctor told national TV that she and her colleagues went into the streets and treated people with serious injuries “many unconscious”.
“The ambulances could not reach them. They took more than 40 minutes,” she said.
The earthquakes were felt over a wide area and many British holidaymakers and homeowners felt it in Polaris World in nearby Murcia.
“Unfortunately, we can confirm… deaths due to cave-ins and falling debris,” Lorca Mayor Francisco Jodar told radio station Ser.
“We are trying to find out if there are people inside the collapsed houses,” he added.
Murcia has had two recent earthquakes in 1999 and 2005, both of a lesser size.