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Earthquake Shakes Southeastern France

February 18, 1996

PERPIGNAN, France (AP) _ A magnitude 5.6 earthquake shook southeastern France before dawn Sunday, startling residents from their beds but causing little reported damage and no deaths or injuries.

The quake, which occurred at 2:45 a.m. Sunday, was centered at Axat, a town in the the rugged Pyrenees mountain range that forms France’s border with Spain. Axat is about 40 miles west of the city of Perpignan.

Several people reported cracks in the walls of their homes, but there were no reports of injuries, civil defense officials said.

In the village of Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet just east of Axat, 300 panic-stricken villagers fled their homes to gather in the darkness in front of the town hall.

Francoise Da Silva, the village baker, said she was awakened by ``a huge explosion.″

``I thought my bakery was collapsing, or that my oven had exploded. The bed was moving, and a window was broken. Outside, people were screaming. Everyone was in the street. My husband and I packed up some clothes and a little money,″ she said.

The first quake was followed by three weaker tremors at roughly 15-minute intervals, ending at around 3:40 a.m. The shock waves were felt as far away as Barcelona, 100 miles to the south.

Sunday’s tremor was the worst in the region since 1967, when an earthquake of magnitude 6.5 to 7 killed one person and flattened several hundred homes.

The northern Pyrenees are situated on a fault line that extends all the way to France’s southwestern Atlantic coast, officials at an earth physics observatory in Strasbourg said Sunday.

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