Georgia's worst earthquake in 30 years kills six

from Agence France-Presse
Published on 26 Apr 2002
by Nikolai Topuria

TBILISI, April 26 (AFP) - Six people died as the worst earthquake to hit Georgia for more than 30 years caused serious damage to the historic centre of Tbilisi, local officials said Friday.

The quake, measuring 5.8 on the open-ended Richter scale, struck at 10.45 pm (1745 GMT) Thursday and several minor tremors were reported early Friday in what experts said was the strongest disturbance since the late 1960s, causing damage initially estimated at 40 million dollars (45 million euros).

Three people died when buildings fell on them, a fourth reportedly died of a heart attack, and early Friday a woman died in hospital from injuries suffered as she fell from a second-storey apartment, officials said.

A sixth person died in the afternoon from a heart-attack caused by the earthquake.

Around 10 people have been hospitalised. The epicentre of the quake was in the vicinity of the Georgian capital, officials said, though the ITAR-TASS news agency situated the epicentre 60 kilometres (36 miles) to the north.

Power lines to the city centre were cut as the quake hit, creating extra difficulties for the rescuers and medical workers who rushed to the area.

Thousands of residents ran out into the streets where they spent the night, many of them in their cars. Electricity was finally restored at 2:00 am.

The head of the local geophysics centre, Tamaz Chelidze, said "Georgia has not seen such an earthquake since the late 1960s."

Many buildings in the city's historic centre showed signs of damage, with fallen balconies and cracked walls.

None had yet collapsed, though several looked as if they might do so at the slightest aftershock.

Buildings built more recently, equipped to resist earthquakes up to force 8 on the Richter scale, showed cracks but appeared solid.

With minor aftershocks continuing through the day, many residents were still reluctant late Friday to return to their homes.

The Georgian foreign ministry building was among those that suffered damage, and several schools and faculties were closed for the day.

The full extent of the damage is still being assessed but is clearly substantial, Avtandil Dzhorbenadze, head of a government relief commission told the ITAR-TASS news agency.

"Tbilisi is badly equipped to resist a tremor of this kind," relief worker Makhtang Chichinadze said, noting that "the old city, around 40 percent of the centre, is made up of dilapidated buildings."

Local residents displayed anger as much as shock, calling into question the lack of preventive measures by local authorities.

"They should have done something about these old houses ages ago," one woman said, fearful now of returning to a home that "could collapse at any minute."

The resident of one of the modern buildings was also bitter. "There shouldn't be any damage here, but you know what the quality of Soviet building was like," he said.

Two minor tremors were recorded in the region earlier this month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message of condolence to his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze, and phoned him to offer "any urgent assistance that might be needed," Kremlin officials said.

nt/bb/jah AFP

Copyright (c) 2002 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 04/26/2002 10:14:00

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