The quake collapsed fronts of buildings in the southeastern town of Lorca and ripped huge gaps into walls, which slumped into the streets.
Witnesses reported many injuries.
A church clocktower smashed to the ground and narrowly missed one television reporter as he conducted an interview in the town on Spanish public broadcaster TVE. A bronze bell lay in the rubble.
Television images showed shaken families and children gathering in squares and playgrounds in the town, some weeping and hugging as they sought safety. Masonry and rubble blanketed streets. A corpse lay in the street covered in a rescue blanket.
A line of parked cars lay crushed under tonnes of rubble, photos published in the online edition of El Mundo showed.
The tremor struck at 6:47 pm (1647 GMT) with a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles) and could be felt as far away as the capital Madrid. It hit nearly two hours after a smaller 4.4-magnitude quake.
Ironically, it struck on the same day many residents stayed away from work in the Italian capital Rome fearing a supposed prophecy of a devastating tremor made by a self-taught Italian seismologist who died in 1979.
A doctor said many people had been hurt in the Spanish quake.
For months Italian internet sites, blogs and social networks have been debating the work of Raffaele Bendandi, who claimed to have forecast numerous earthquakes and, according to internet rumours, predicted a "big one" in Rome on May 11.
The national television network RAI has run programmes aimed at calming rising panic among Romans. The civil protection agency has issued statements reiterating the official scientific view that earthquakes canít be predicted.
Yet many residents of the Eternal City arenít listening.
"Iím going to tell the boss Iíve got a medical appointment and take the day off," barman Fabio Mengarelli told Reuters. "If I have to die I want to die with my wife and kids, and masses of people will do the same as me."
A. Lorca, Spain, location of 5.2 earthquake, May 11, 2011,
B. Rome, Italy, location of predicted earthquake for May 11, 2011 by Raffaele Bendandi.
Is this too close to be a coincidence? Image: Google Earth
"Bendandi, who died in 1979 aged 86, believed earthquakes were the result of the combined movements of the planets, the moon and the sun and were perfectly predictable."
Does this new event give weight to Bendandiís claims?
"According to the London Telegraph, Bendandi has been correct in previous predictions. He made front-page headlines after he predicted the 1915 Avezzano earthquake, which caused 30,000 deaths. His forecast was off by two days and it struck the region of Le Marche." Source
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