Disaster amid pandemic: Croatia deploys army to clean debris, advocates ‘distancing’ after strongest quake in 140yrs

Croatia sent troops to clear rubble in Zagreb after the capital was struck by a series of powerful tremors. The authorities told people to observe social distancing due to the pandemic after initially calling on others to help.

Army personnel began working to remove rubble from the city streets hours after Zagreb was rocked by an earthquake on Sunday morning. The troops were also deployed to assist patients in the city’s major hospitals, the Defense Ministry said.

Many residents have earlier fled their homes after being frightened by the tremors and sirens. Officials have been urging them to self-quarantine in order to slow down the spread of the deadly Covid-19 disease. Immediately after the earthquake happened, Zagreb’s head of emergency services, Pavle Kalnic, asked people to help their older neighbors.

The government later gave the opposite instruction, asking residents to maintain distance between one another. “Once again we stress the importance of keeping distance [from one another] and following the rules against Covid-19,” Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic told reporters.

“The situation is contradictory, we invited people to stay at home to avoid spreading… the coronavirus, and now we are advising them to leave their homes,” Plenkovic admitted. The PM said that Sunday’s quake was the strongest Zagreb had experienced in 140 years.

A 15-year-old was reported to have been hospitalized in critical condition, while several others were injured. Numerous structures were damaged, including the nation’s parliament building and Zagreb’s main historic church.

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Croatia has grown to 206 on Saturday. So far, only one patient has died.