Petrinja (Croatia) (AFP) -
A powerful earthquake killed a young girl as it ripped down buildings in central Croatia on Tuesday, sending rescue teams to scour rubble for survivors as residents sought safe shelter.
The damage was concentrated in the town of Petrinja, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of the capital Zagreb and home to some 20,000 people. The force of the quake caved in rooftops, sending bricks and other debris tumbling into the streets.
Josip Horvat, a 44-year-old artist, said he was fixing a friend's chimney in the town's centre when the tremor struck at midday.
'I grabbed the gutter and I was just praying to God that it ends as soon as possible,' he told AFP, lamenting the 'disaster' downtown.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who took stock of the wreckage in Petrinja, said at least one girl was reported killed in the destruction.
Local media reported she was 12 years old.
'It is not safe to be here,' Plenkovic said, adding that authorities would bring in containers for residents to stay in as long as their homes remained a risk.
The town's mayor Darinko Dumbovic said officials were still tallying the scale of the destruction, adding that a -- luckily empty -- kindergarten was among the buildings that collapsed from the force of the quake.
'The city is actually a huge ruin. We are saving people, we are saving lives. We have dead people, we have missing people, injured people...it is a catastrophe,' Dumbovic told national radio.
Some 20 people had been hospitalised, with two in critical condition, according to regional broadcaster N1.
- Two quakes -
The earthquake, which hit around 1130 GMT according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), rattled Petrinja and the surrounding area just one day after a smaller earthquake struck in the same vicinity, causing some damage to buildings.
Tuesday's quake also shook the capital Zagreb, where panicked residents gathered in the streets as the shocks tore the tiles off roofs.
The tremors reverberated across neighbouring countries, including Serbia, Slovenia and as far away as the Austrian capital Vienna.
As a precaution Slovenia moved to shut down the Krsko nuclear power plan it co-owns with Croatia.
European Union leaders said they were closely following the 'devastating earthquake' in member state Croatia.
The bloc's civil protection team was 'ready to travel to Croatia as soon as the situation allows,' European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said 'our thoughts go out to the injured and frontline workers'.
In March, Zagreb's city centre was damaged by a 5.3-magnitude quake, the most powerful to hit the capital in decades.
The Balkan region lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes.