According to the US Geological Survey, a powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck central Croatia on Tuesday, with local rescuers reporting extensive damage near the epicenter in Petrinja city and the surrounding area.
The number of casualties was not known. There were reports that the earthquake, which came just after noon local time, could be felt as far afield as the Balkans and Hungary.
The Mayor of Petrinja, Darinko Dambovich, told regional broadcaster N1 that “the city was destroyed and at least one person was killed, a 12-year-old girl, whose body she said she walked on the street.”
“It’s a catastrophe,” he said. “My city is completely destroyed.”
“We need firefighting, we don’t know what’s under the surfaces, a roof fell on a car, we need help,” he said in an emotional telephone interview from the scene broadcast on Croatian state television.
“Mothers are crying for their children,” he said.
Images from the scene appeared on social media and local television stations scattered along the streets with rubble, buildings with roofs and rescue teams rushing through the streets. In a scene captured by a local television crew, a man and a child were taken out of a car buried under the wreckage and taken to the hospital.
The mayor told local reporters that he was not aware of the situation of the two people.
“I also heard that kindergarten collapsed,” he said. “But fortunately there were no children at that time”, he said.
Petrinja is about 30 miles from the capital, Zagreb, where buildings were torn down and debris from broken windows and damaged structures littered the streets.
The Red Cross in Croatia said it was a “very serious” situation.
It was the second earthquake to hit the region on the previous day, damaging buildings and triggering apprehensions in an area with a history of seismic activity following a 5.2-magnitude tremor on Monday morning.
Prime Minister Lady Plankovic and President Zoran Milanovic visited the Petrinja Center to survey the damage from the first earthquake.
While there were no injuries in that first shock, Mayor Dumbovich said many buildings were damaged, putting them in a precarious state when the second earthquake struck.
He said that in recent times there were many small earthquakes and many residents were afraid to spend the night in their homes.
European Commission chair Ursula von der Leyen said that she has asked European Commissioner for Management of the Crisis, Janez Lenrich, to be prepared to travel to Croatia to provide assistance.
The region is prone to earthquakes, and experts warn that the Balkan nations in southeastern Europe have failed to address the risks posed by aging buildings.
While many towns and villages had roots dating back hundreds of years, a building boom, which took place in the 1990s, during the transition from communism to capitalism, often saw structures built in relation to safety standards.
The result is that millions of people live in homes to survive a major earthquake, experts say.
In Croatia, traces of previous Quakes still appear in places like Dubrovnik, where about one-third of the city was leveled in 1667 and killed more than 5,000 people.
Alisa Dogramadzi and Joe Orovic contributed to the reporting.