A strong earthquake Monday sent rocks cascading down mountains onto homes in the Soviet republic of Georgia, killing at least 16 people, authorities said.
The quake was felt in neighboring Armenia, which was devastated by a 1988 quake that killed 25,000 people, but no damage was reported there.The temblor struck at 12:13 p.m. (3:13 a.m. MDT) in north-central Georgia, among sparsely populated villages and towns in the Caucasus Mountains, and measured 7.1 on the Richter scale, the Soviet Central Seismic Station reported. The epicenter was near Ambrolauri, a town that is home to 17,000 people.
"The mountain fell onto the houses," said Marina Starostina, a Georgian government spokeswoman in Moscow. First reports said the town of Dzhava, 60 miles northwest of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, was hardest hit.
Ten people were killed in Dzhava, said Zurab Kadzhaya, a police spokesman in Kutaisi, a city 63 miles west of Dzhava. The Georgian government office in Moscow said 30 homes were damaged in the town of 11,000 people.
Six more people were killed in Onei and Ambrolauri, west of Dzhava, Kadzhaya said.
Rocks slid off a mountainside onto houses in Chiatura, and a railroad station was "severely damaged" in the mountain town of Sachkhere, Georgian officials in Moscow said.
"It was really terrible," Marina Ivanova, a pediatrician in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, said by phone. "The building was shaking like a house of cards. We grabbed our children and rushed downstairs."
Georgian Prime Minister Tengiz Sigua headed a government commission that was sent to the scene, Kadzhaya said.
Don Finley of the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va., put the Richter reading of Monday's quake at 7.2 on the Richter scale and said the temblor released about four times as much energy as the 1988 temblor.
The epicenter of Monday's quake is about 120 miles north of Leninakan, the Armenian city hardest hit by the 1988 quake.
The Dec. 7, 1988, quake that hit Armenia was calculated then at 6.9 on the Richter scale. That temblor leveled hundreds of apartment buildings and trapped tens of thousands of people under tons of rubble.