Quake Rocks Seaside Resorts Across Middle East
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Tourists in pajamas and bathrobes fled hotels at coastal resorts and residents of Cairo ran into the streets shouting Muslim prayers when an earthquake rocked a wide arc of the Middle East Wednesday.
At least eight people were killed and dozens injured _ including two students who suffered broken legs when crushed by hundreds of youths fleeing down the stairway of a crowded Cairo hostel.
The quake struck at 6:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m. Tuesday EST) and was centered about 68 miles south of the Israeli resort of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba.
It shook seaside resorts in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and was felt as far away as Lebanon, Syria and the Mediterranean island of Cyprus to the north.
Buildings, including a four-story hotel, collapsed and electricity was cut.
Hardest hit were towns along the Gulf of Aqaba _ including Eilat, Israel, neighboring Aqaba in Jordan, and Nuweiba, Egypt, about 40 miles south. Vacationers ran from hotels in pajamas, bathrobes and, in a few cases, covered only by towels.
``There was a strong noise. Then the whole ground started moving. There was panic and people were screaming. Customers in the hotel left their rooms. It was very scary,″ said Mashaat al-Haddad, a desk clerk at Aqaba’s seafront Holiday Inn.
In Nuweiba, the four-story Barracuda Hotel collapsed, killing three people, including the manager, police said. Rescue workers said an Egyptian woman was missing and feared trapped under the rubble.
A 67-year-old man died of a heart attack after carrying his invalid wife down two stories from a swaying hotel in Eilat.
An 18-year-old man was killed jumping in fear from a fourth-floor balcony in the southern Egyptian city of Assiut; a 5-year-old boy and a Pakistani man were killed in Saudi Arabia; and a 50-year-old man died of a heart attack in Aqaba just after the tremors.
At least 58 people were reported injured in Egypt, most in the Sinai Peninsula along the Aqaba gulf.
In Cairo, where a quake left 550 dead three years ago, a busdriver said he did not realize a quake had hit until he heard people crying out Islamic prayers in fear.
``I thought I was dizzy and then I saw people running out saying `God is great’ and `There is no god but God.′ Then I knew there was an earthquake,″ said Amin Rizk Allah, 36.
Authorities in Cairo reported damage to at least 23 buildings, ranging from collapse to serious cracks in foundations. Most were vacant, including some condemned after the 1992 earthquake that caused widespread damage and 10,000 injuries.
The government moved swiftly to assess the damage and provide relief, eager to avoid the scathing criticism it suffered after the 1992 quake, when Islamic groups came to the aid of earthquake victims.
In Eilat, seven hotels and more than 50 other buildings were damaged. Sidewalks folded and sewage tanks burst. A crater, a few yards long and just as deep, opened up in the hotel area. Electricity was cut for seven minutes.
Israeli singer Dudu Fisher, who performed the lead in the musical ``Les Miserables″ on Broadway, said he was asleep in his room on the 10th floor of the Dan Hotel when the quake struck.
``The television smashed on the floor. The floor shook. I have never been so frightened in my life,″ said Fisher.
Several guests put on Jewish prayer shawls and prayed near the hotel’s pool.
Estimates of the quake’s magnitude ranged from 7.2 by the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., to 5.7 by Egypt’s Helwan Observatory.
An earthquake with a magnitude of 7 is considered major, and Bruce Presgrave, a geophysicist at the U.S. quake center, said: ``If it had struck in an urban area, it would have caused serious damage.″
Israel’s Seismological Center said the quake was the strongest in the Jordan Rift Valley area since 1927, when a tremor killed more than 200 people in the West Bank town of Jericho.