A strong earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4 struck central Croatia on Tuesday, according to the US Geological Survey. Local rescue workers reported widespread damage near the epicenter in the city of Petrinja and the surrounding area.
The extent of the victims was not known. There were reports that the quake, which hit just after noon local time, was felt in the Balkans and as far as Hungary.
Petrinja Mayor Darinko Dumbovic told regional broadcaster N1: “The city was destroyed and at least one person was killed, a 12-year-old girl whose body he passed on the street.
“This is a disaster,” he said. “My city is completely destroyed.”
“We need firefighters, we do not know what is under the surface, a roof has fallen on a car, we need help,” he said in an emotional telephone interview from the scene that was broadcast on Croatian state television.
“Mothers cry for their children,” he said.
Pictures of the scene on social media and local TV channels showed streets littered with rubble, buildings with collapsed roofs and rescue workers storming the streets. In a scene filmed by local television crews, a man and child were pulled from a car buried in rubble and taken to the hospital.
The mayor told local reporters that he did not know the condition of the two people.
“I also heard that the kindergarten collapsed,” he said. “But luckily there weren’t any children back then,” he said in the building.
Petrinja is about 30 miles southeast of Zagreb, the capital, where buildings have been rocked and debris from broken windows and damaged structures lay on the streets.
The Red Cross in Croatia said it was a “very serious” situation.
It was the second earthquake to hit the area last day after a 5.2 magnitude tremor on Monday morning damaged buildings and fueled fears in a region with a history of seismic activity.
It took only a few hours for Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and President Zoran Milanovic to tour the center of Petrinja to investigate the damage caused by the first quake.
While that first tremor caused no injuries, Mayor Dumbovic said many buildings had been damaged, which left them in a precarious state with the second quake.
He said there had been several small earthquakes in the past few days and that many residents were afraid to spend the night in their homes.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said she had asked Janez Lenarcic, the European Commissioner for Crisis Management, to be ready to travel to Croatia to provide assistance.
The region is prone to earthquakes and experts have warned that the Balkans in south-eastern Europe have not addressed the risks of aging buildings.
While many towns and villages trace their roots back hundreds of years, a building boom that took place in the 1990s during the transition from communism to capitalism often saw structures built without regard to safety standards.
The result is that millions of people are living in houses that are unlikely to survive a major earthquake, experts say.
In Croatia, the scars of past quakes are still visible in places like Dubrovnik, where almost a third of the city was leveled in 1667 and more than 5,000 people died.
Alisa Dogramadzieva and Joe Orovic contributed to the coverage.