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5.4-Magnitude Earthquake Damages Zagreb Cathedral, Museums

The tremors, which arrived in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, was the worst the Croatian capital has seen in 140 years

The top of Zagreb Cathedral's southern spire toppled during Sunday's earthquake. (Photo by Denis Lovrovic / AFP via Getty Images)
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A 5.4-magnitude earthquake hit Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb, on Sunday shortly after 6 a.m. local time. The quake injured 26 people, including a teenage girl who died of her injuries the following day, reports the Associated Press.

The Eastern European country hadn’t experienced an earthquake of comparable magnitude in 140 years. Aftershocks, the strongest of which measured 3.7 magnitude, shook the city for hours afterward. Several cultural institutions, including educational facilities, museums and the famed Zagreb Cathedral, sustained significant damage.

Sunday’s natural disaster arrived amid a time of crisis, adding to Croatia’s woes as the country struggles to contain the spread of COVID-19. As of Tuesday afternoon, the country had a reported total of 382 coronavirus cases.

“We are fighting two enemies at the moment,” Interior Minister Davor Božinović tells Reuters’ Igor Ilic. “[O]ne is invisible and the other is unpredictable.”

Zagreb Cathedral’s two 350-foot-tall spires make it the tallest building in Croatia. On Sunday, however, the top of the southern tower came crashing down, striking the Archbishop’s Palace on its way, per local broadcasting company HRT.

The base of the Roman Catholic cathedral dates back to the 11th century, when the Diocese of Zagreb was established. Construction probably began around 1100 and was completed by the year 1217. In 1242, Mongols invaded the city and heavily damaged the cathedral, which later underwent major reconstruction. During the 16th century, the city fortified the cathedral with walls and towers; by the 17th century, its square renaissance bell tower was complete.

After a major earthquake struck in 1880, the cathedral was completely rebuilt. Workers finished reconstructing the Neo-Gothic structure, including its iconic pair of gold-topped spires, in 1906.

Other buildings damaged by the tremors include 63 educational facilities and most of the city’s museums. The Museum of Arts and Crafts, for instance, posted photos on Facebook showing broken glass artworks and a collapsed ceiling.

The Mimara Museum also shared images of damaged exhibits, walls and ceilings. A sculpture of an eagle featured in a new exhibition on Imari porcelain fell and shattered a delicate plate.

Elsewhere, damage to Croatia’s Parliament building has delayed sessions, Speaker Gordan Jandroković told reporters, as quoted by the Guardian’s Shaun Walker.

“The damage is quite extensive,” said Jandroković. “Walls and stairways have cracked on the upper floor and one section of the roof has been destroyed.”

The earthquake complicates social distancing measures in the country, as many residents whose homes sustained damage gathered in the streets during the initial quake and aftershocks.

“There are rules for when there is an earthquake,” Božinović told state news agency Hina, per the Guardian. “But when there is an earthquake at the same time when there is a global pandemic, then it’s a much more complex situation.”

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