Series of earth tremors causes alarm in Jaén town

Strongest shockwake measured 3.5 on magnitude scale Seismic experts say there is no risk of larger earthquake striking area

Members of the National Geographical Institute in the Jaén town of Torreperogil on Sunday.
Members of the National Geographical Institute in the Jaén town of Torreperogil on Sunday. José Manuel Pedrosa / EL PAÍS

"It's like a bomb going off near you, people are scared," said José Lendínez, a resident of Torreperogil in Jaén province on Sunday. Over the past 11 days, almost 200 earth tremors have been registered by a team from the National Geographical Institute (IGN) dispatched to the town of just over 7,000 inhabitants.

More than 30 tremors were felt during Monday morning, the strongest registering 3.3 on the Moment magnitude scale, the modern equivalent of the Richter scale developed during the 1930s. The strongest tremor, 3.5, was felt overnight on Saturday. The earthquake that destroyed much of the village of Lorca in Murcia in May 2011, killing nine people, was a magnitude 5.1 tremor, but was much closer to the surface than most of those in Torreperogil. The strongest shockwaves were registered three kilometers beneath ground level.

"I haven't been able to sleep all night," said pub owner Juan Hidalgo, who thought his gas boiler had exploded when the biggest tremor hit the town. Many people have left their homes in Torreperogil and on Monday a primary school was closed as a precaution due to cracks in the structure of the building.

The local council, which has published information on what residents should do in the case of a more serious quake, hired a vehicle with a megaphone to patrol the streets in an attempt to calm the fears of residents. "Of course there is a state of alarm among the population," said the provisional mayor of Torreperogil, José Ruiz. "They want to hear that nothing serious is going to happen, but nobody can guarantee that."

On Saturday 11 seismic movements were recorded, some at almost surface level. By Monday the epicenter had moved toward the neighboring town of Sabiote, four kilometers to the northwest of Torreperogil.

"Series of 200 or 300 small earthquakes in a few days, which we call swarms, would not normally be felt on the surface but in this case they have been, and that has logically caused concern," the director of the IGN's seismic information service, Emilio Carreño, said.

"There is no need to worry," Carreño continued, adding that although he could not give the guarantees residents sought, calm should prevail. "The one thing we can say is that there is no indication that points to the risk of a more intense earthquake."