By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Zagreb, Croatia with additional reporting by Linda Bordoni in Vatican City
ZAGREB, CROATIA (BosNewsLife)– Residents in Croatia’s capital Zagreb remain traumatized after its most powerful earthquake in more than a century left dozens injured and killed a teenager. The March 22 quake prompted Pope Francis to express his closeness to the people of this heavily Catholic nation, which is also facing a new coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking during an Angelus prayer, he said, “May the Lord give them the strength and solidarity to face this calamity.” The quake caused much damage and added to hardship due to a partial coronavirus lockdown of the country, said residents to BosNewsLife.
However, the clean up has begun in Zagreb’s iconic cathedral. It’s among several historic buildings that were damaged by a 5.5 magnitude earthquake on Sunday, March 22. But the partial damage to the basilica comes as a shock for the many Catholics in this nation.
Also, Croatia’s government says 250 houses have been damaged, and some 60 people had to be housed in temporary shelters following the initial Sunday quake. Residents have told BosNewsLife how they felt the Croatian capital shaking during the earthquake.
They called it the worst quake in some 140 years after seeing the destruction of the center of Zagreb.
Besides one killed person, a 15-year-old girl, Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic, also said that “dozens of people, including children, were injured, many of them seriously.”
And there was more bad news. Seismologists said scores of weaker tremors were felt in Zagreb since the quake struck, triggering panic and the evacuation of hospitals.
The strongest aftershock measuring 3.7 sent some people rushing out of their homes into public parks.
They did so despite warnings from authorities against large gatherings in public areas to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus known as COVID-19.
The interior minister also announced new restrictive measures intended to combat the spread of the virus. They include a ban on people leaving their homes except to buy food and medicine, seeking medical attention, or going to work.
And at the international airport in Zagreb, a BosNewsLife reporter returning from an assignment in Indonesia witnessed how people were ordered by security to stay at a distance of two meters from each other.
Taxi drivers are checked by police to ensure they carry passengers only on back seats. “We have to keep a distance,” Taxidriver Sasha Sajh confirmed to BosNewsLife. He was driving a BosNewsLife reporter to a temporary border station with Hungary. “I can’t cross the border because they will put me two weeks in quarantine there,” he added.
The coronavirus measures have also impacted local entrepreneurs in Croatia, which is still facing economic difficulties following its war for independence in the 1990s. Barbershops, for instance, were closed. There were nearly 1,100 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Balkan nation by Friday, April 3, and at least eight deaths linked to the virus, COVID-19.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or coughing. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
In the words of the Interior Minister, Croatia is fighting “two crises,” at the same time. “One is against the coronavirus. And the other is against the consequences of the earthquake.”