The ministry confirmed the deaths of a girl in the town of Petrinja, where the tremor caused widespread damage, and five men in the village of Majske Poljane. At least 26 people have been injured, six seriously, it added.
“We are doing everything we can to help the citizens of Petrinja and surrounding areas in this dramatic and tragic situation,” Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said in a tweet.
“The destructive earthquake has taken human lives, destroyed homes, and we deeply sympathise with every person and every family that has been harmed.”
The quake struck the Balkan country at 12:20 p.m. local time (6:20 a.m. ET). Its epicenter was located 44 kilometers (27 miles) southeast of the capital Zagreb, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre. The government-owned Croatian News Agency HINA earlier reported that the quake had a magnitude of 6.3.
The EMSC said it was the largest earthquake to hit Croatia so far this year, adding it could “generate significant damage at close epicentral distances.”
Croatian town ‘going through hell’
Petrinja Mayor Darinko Dumbovic told CNN affiliate N1 that the town of nearly 25,000 residents was “going through hell” after the tremor, and had no running water or electricity. He has requested emergency aid.
“I feel that both its center and its soul have been destroyed,” Dumbovic said. “We have no electricity, no water. Everything is broken. We are here in darkness, in ruin, searching for people,” he added.
HEP, the state electricity provider, said it had managed to restore power to parts of the quake-hit area; however Petrinja and its hospital remains dark, N1 reported. HEP said they are hoping to restore some power during the evening.
Footage from inside the hospital in Petrinja showed medical staff working by torchlight as they awaited the evacuation of some patients.
More than 250 members of the Croatian armed forces are on the ground, according to a statement from Defense Minister Mario Banozic, shared by the Croatian government’s official Twitter account.
“The military barrack in Petrinja is open and can provide adequate accommodation for those who have lost a roof over their heads. The army shall be here for however long it is needed,” the tweet said.
In dramatic footage captured by N1, the mayor was giving a press conference on camera about the previous day’s smaller earthquake when Tuesday’s quake struck. In the video, a rumbling sound can be heard as the earthquake begins, followed by muddled shrieks from the attendees. The camera then appears to fall to the ground.
In an earlier interview with N1, Dumbović described scenes of “panic” in the aftermath of the tremor.
“We are pulling people out of cars, we don’t know if people have died or have been injured. I heard a kindergarten has collapsed but luckily there weren’t any children there, while in another one the children were able to escape,” the mayor said.
Prime Minister visits
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has visited the towns close to the epicenter of the earthquake, as search and rescue missions continue.
“I’d like to express my condolences to the families of the victims of the earthquake in Petrinja and Glina. We hope that the number of victims will be as low as possible,” Plenkovic said in a tweet.
“All emergency services are in action on the field and are working tirelessly to provide help to all those who need it,” he added.
Some hospital patients will be transported by helicopter from affected areas to Zagreb, the Croatian government said on Twitter, after a bridge to the capital was damaged, severely limiting road traffic.
Plenkovic spoke in front of a hospital in the town of Sisak, which was damaged in the quake, saying that as many as possible of the 250 patients would be moved to Zagreb and other regions, HINA reported.
“This is a tragedy but everyone is here and we will provide all possible help,” the Prime Minister said in a tweet.
The Arena sports hall in Zagreb, which was turned into an emergency care centre for coronavirus patients, will also begin to take in coronavirus patients from the county of Sisak-Moslavina, which was affected the earthquake, HINA reported.
Krsko nuclear power plant in Slovenia, close to Zagreb, has been closed as a precaution after the quake, N1 reported.
Jan Bantic reported from Zagreb. Sharon Braithwaite, Ena Bilobrk and Brandon Miller contributed to this article.