AT LEAST another 25 aftershocks have been reported overnight following the earthquake of 6.3 on the Richter scale which rocked Melilla and was felt across Andalucía.
Residents in the Spanish-owned city-province of Melilla, on the northern Moroccan coast and close to the Algerian border, got little sleep last night (Monday) or in the early hours of this morning (Tuesday) as tremor after tremor struck the Alborán sea between south-eastern Spain and north Africa.
Neither did their northern neighbours, across the water in Andalucía, where quakes were felt in every province.
Over 200 calls to emergency services were registered Monday morning in the provinces of Málaga, Granada and Jaén in particular, with residents rushing out of their homes fearing they would crumble on top of them.
And a similar scenario was seen last night and early this morning, although the tremors reached a maximum of 3.5 on the Richter scale – enough to be felt, but generally not enough to cause any damage.
Many of the quakes were so minor they went completely unnoticed, even in Melilla which is the closest part of Spain to the epicentre – the town of Alhucemas on the Moroccan shores – but a succession of quakes at 3.0 and above rocked the ground from midnight to around 06.00 this morning.
Nobody was injured during the aftershocks, although 26 people were taken to hospital in Melilla following the initial quake of 6.3.
They were mainly treated for panic attacks and minor bruises and cuts from falling objects and shattered windows, or from falling over when the ground moved.
In Morocco, just over the border, six people were injured and a 12-year-old boy suffered a fatal heart attack said to be due to the shock, although it is not known whether he had a pre-existing cardio-vascular condition.
'Fairly low' risk of another major quake, says IGN
According to José Benito Bravo Monge of Spain's National Geographical Institute (IGN), who recalled that Friday's quake in the Alborán sea of 5.1 was felt across Andalucía, said the chances of another big earthquake in the area any time soon were fairly low, but that Spain's African provinces in particular were at 'moderate risk' of tremors.
Andalucía and the south-east of Spain are also on fault lines, and although quakes are fairly common, they rarely exceed 2.0 or 3.0 on the Richter scale, which is not enough to cause damage beyond items falling off shelves and the impact is similar to a heavy lorry passing at speed.
More intense quakes – such as one in the north-western Comunidad Valenciana, on the Aragón and Castilla-La Mancha borders in January 2006 and another between Murcia and Albacete last year, reached 4.5, but those of a higher magnitude have generally been several kilometres below the surface, meaning damage is minimal.
Chairman of the Official College of Chartered Geologists (ICOG), Luis Suárez, has called for national and regional authorities to take the quake threat seriously to minimise the possibility of future damage.
“We need to consider the latest sismic activity as a warning and, if we don't, we can't blame it on bad luck,” he stressed.
“This isn't California or Chile, but there is a risk”
With southern and African Spain sitting on tectonic plates where two continents collide, the likelihood of tremors is 'high' but not 'extreme', Suárez reveals.
“This isn't California, or Chile or Japan or Nepal, but there is a risk,” he says.
The May 2011 quake in Lorca (Murcia), which reached 5.1 on the Richter scale, was of a much lesser intensity than yesterday's in the Alborán sea, but was only just over a kilometre below the surface as opposed to over 10 kilometres.
This is why the tremor caused mass destruction and nine deaths, but so far it is the worst in modern Spanish history.
Before this, the only serious earthquake in Spain was in 1884 in the Granada area, reaching 6.7 on the Richter scale and causing between 750 and 900 deaths.
The ICOG has been lobbying the government since the Lorca tragedy – so far without success – to put four crucial measures in place to keep damage to an absolute minimum in the event of a major quake.
Prevention makes a great difference, says expert
Earthquakes are nearly impossible to predict since, as yet, experts have never managed to find a clear pattern pointing to why and when they happen.
The Alborán sea sits on the Tofiño Bank fault, and in the last 20 years has seen two other large quakes of 5.7 and 6.2 – but the impact on the nearest areas of land was minimal.
Suárez says although disasters such as those seen elsewhere in the world are unlikely in Spain, taking the right steps to reduce risk to the population can make a huge difference – and this is often seen in countries where major earthquakes are almost inevitable.
In Perú, nearly all public buildings bear an 'earthquake-safe zone' sticker and locals know to run to the nearest one if they feel the ground move.
And most of the damage caused during the massive autumn 2007 tremor just south of Lima was to homes made of adobe, or mud-brick, rather than those of concrete or bricks and mortar.