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Originally published Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 4:55 AM

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Spanish leader pledges help for quake city

Spain's prime minister toured the quake-ravaged city of Lorca Friday for a firsthand look at widespread damage that forced an estimated 3,000 people to spend another night sleeping in tents in makeshift camps.

Associated Press

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LORCA, Spain —

Spain's prime minister toured the quake-ravaged city of Lorca Friday for a firsthand look at widespread damage that forced an estimated 3,000 people to spend another night sleeping in tents in makeshift camps.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero visited the area hardest hit by Wednesday's two quakes, which killed nine people and injured nearly 300, and pledged the government will help the city in southeastern Spain rebuild and return to normal as soon as possible.

At one point Zapatero stopped to watch as crews tore away loose chunks of concrete from the tops of buildings and let them crash to the ground, raising clouds of dust.

"It is my conviction that we are going to meet this test," he told reporters later. "The earthquake was hard and strong. But this country is stronger. Its desire for solidarity and reconstruction are stronger."

The Spanish Cabinet was to approve aid for people who lost their homes or businesses at a meeting Friday.

A funeral Mass for the nine dead began late in the morning. There were only four coffins at the service, in part because some of the families of the deceased wanted private funerals, town hall and regional officials said.

Zapatero attended the service, along with Crown Prince Felipe and Crown Princess Letizia.

Lorca's mayor said Thursday that of around 550 buildings inspected so far by engineers and architects, more than half are uninhabitable.

Lorca is a city of some 90,000 that lives off agriculture.

Cars streamed out of the city Thursday as people fled in fear of more aftershocks from the 4.4 and 5.2 magnitude quakes that hit on Wednesday at a very shallow depth just outside Lorca. Seismologists say these factors help explain why only moderate-level quakes caused so much damage.

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Daniel Woolls contributed from Madrid.

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