By Humphrey Carter
HUNDREDS of pupils were evacuated from a Palma school in the Els Hostalets area of the city yesterday after the building, which nestles on the edge of one of the new metro tunnels which are being constructed, started to tremble. This is, in fact, the second time Santa Isabel college has been evacuated in the past two months.
The first tremors, which registered 3.7 on the Richter scale, were felt in the building on November 18 when it was first evacuated - but a subsequent investigation concluded that no serious structural damage had been done to the school and that construction work on the new Palma metro and the near by use of heavy machinery was not to blame. However, at around 11.45 yesterday, the building started to tremble again and the alarm was raised at 1pm as teachers and pupils started to get seriously worried. Emergency teams and worried parents rushed to the scene along with engineers and inspectors from the education department who inspected the building while the Local Police cordoned off the area. By 2pm, inspectors ruled that the school was safe and those students who had to use the building were allowed to return inside. But, while the emergency services control centre said that no other reports of tremors were received from residents in the area, city council engineers yesterday admitted that the tremors “could be related to vibrations coming from the nearby construction site where work is being carried out under the maximum levels of safety and security,” a source said.
Palma fire service chief Luis Ortega said that, as far as his team was concerned, the tremors appear to have been caused by the heavy machinery being used yesterday morning, in particular large drilling tools “but we've checked the building over and none of the cracks pose any threat to the building,” he said. School director, Yolanda Muñoz, explained that yesterday's tremors were this time felt on the first and second floors and that tremors apparently continued as long as the heavy machinery was in action. The inspection committee, set up in November to investigate the causes of the first incident, is said to be nearing the end of its enquiry and, according to Balearic government sources, should soon be able to reveal the exact cause of the tremors and is expected to hold one final site meeting this week. However, the school's parents association was far from satisfied with the initial reasons provided by Palma City Council - at first it was claimed the November tremors were caused by an earthquake in Algeria and then an explosion at a quarry to the north of Palma - and some children did not return to school for a number of days after the November 18 scare. Yesterday, one parent said that he would be keeping his daughter home today “for her own safety.”


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