YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A medium-magnitude earthquake jolted Yerevan and surrounding areas on Thursday, triggering a brief panic among the population.
According to Armenia’s National Seismic Protection Service (NSPC), the quake measured 3.6 on the Richter scale at its epicenter near Garni, a big village about 20 kilometers east of the capital. The agency said it caused no casualties and devastation.
The tremor was felt in Yerevan at mid-day, felling rumors that seismologists expect a more powerful earthquake to hit the city of more than one million later in the day. Scores of city residents rushed out of their homes and workplaces as a result.
Many employees of government agencies and private institutions could be seen standing outside their office buildings in the following hours. There were reports of graduation examinations canceled in some public schools.
The NSPC promptly tried to calm the population. “The National Seismic Protection Service is declaring that such rumors are groundless and do not correspond to reality,” it said in a statement.
The deputy head of the service, Hrachya Petrosian, held a special news conference to also dismiss the “false rumors.” “Some people or groups are spreading disinformation,” he said.
Petrosian also said that the NSPC is currently closely monitoring seismic activity in the Garni area. “We are currently doing specialized research,” he said. “That work requires some time and effort. When we have clear results we will inform our population about further seismic developments.”
The panic highlighted enduring memories of a much more powerful earthquake that struck northern Armenia in 1988, killing some 25,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands of others homeless. Thousands of families in the area still live in derelict temporary shelters. The Armenian government has pledged to complete the protracted reconstruction of the earthquake zone by 2013.