Southeastern Spain felt two earthquakes near the town of Lorca, 30 miles SW of Murcia. The larger one,at 5.1M caused the most damage hit at 16:47 UTC (6:47 pm local time). There was a foreshock of 4.5M. The 2nd, and larger, one was 5.1M. Several buildings in downtown Lorca were severely damaged and the streets were covered in bricks from the damaged buildings. Dozens were injured, thousands were afraid to sleep in their homes for fear of aftershocks and nine people were killed.
Lorca is a city of 90,000 in the Murcia district of southeastern Spain in Murcia Province. Murcia Province constitutes one of Spain's Autonomous Communities, a level of government that reflects Spain's various historically and culturally different regions and nationalities. Murcia Province has 1.4 million people, 500,000 of whom live in the city of Murcia, 30 miles from the quake. There are no reports of damage very far outside of Lorca. However the quake was felt as far away as Madrid, 218 miles away. A 5.1M quake is capable of significant damage near the epicenter but we would not expect to see much damage at any distance. The buildings damaged appear to have been mostly historic structures dating back to the 17th century, build without knowledge of how to protect against earthquakes. Quakes this large do occur in this area from time to time but not very frequently. A quake in 1956 killed 12 people.
This quake is a result of the motions of the African and Eurasian Plates in this vicinity. The boundary between the plates runs through the Strait of Gibraltar and extends into the Mediterranean Sea. Earthquakes in this area are shallow and magnitudes are typically no greater than this one. (See the Plate Tectonics page for more information on these processes.) The US Geological Survey (USGS) is an invaluable resource in understanding and tracking earthquakes. See the USGS summary of this quake.
See also the following news stories:
* Lethal Double Quake Hits Spanish Town(Sky News 5/11/11))
*Spain: Earthquake rocks Lorca, Murcia, killing 10 (BBC 5/12/11) Includes dramatic film of a church belfry falling during the quake.
* Spain quake kills 10, topples buildings (AFP 5/12/11)
* Two Earthquakes Rock Southeastern Spain (New York Times 5/11/11)