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Italian Earthquakes and My Experience of Them

I like variety—so I love travelling, exploring and writing fiction and non-fiction on a daily basis.

After an earthquake...

After an earthquake...

Italy and Earthquakes

As lifelong Italophiles, my family and I have visited and stayed in Italy many times over the last couple of decades for holidays and have also have renovated an old traditional house, and done our best to blend into the culture of our adopted Italian town. In many ways, this may seem idyllic, with visions of long summer evenings with friends sharing good food and great wine, but as we are all aware, life is not a ‘photoshopped’ image from Instagram or Facebook – life is real, and reality is always ready to step in should we forget that life is often a rollercoaster.

So spending so much time in Italy over the last few years, and integrating as best we could, it is only a matter of time before one of the concerns of Italian life (especially in central Italy) should (literally) shake us up. That concern is earthquakes.

Although earthquakes do not immediately spring to mind when planning a trip to Italy, they do happen, and relatively frequently.

The devastation left behind after the L'Aquila earthquake in Abruzzo, Italy

The devastation left behind after the L'Aquila earthquake in Abruzzo, Italy

Why Does Italy Have Earthquakes?

Southern Italy sits close to where the Eurasian and African tectonic plates meet and these constantly shift and grate against one another. This creates volcanic and seismic tension which affects Italy’s major volcanoes such as Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli, and can also trigger earthquakes along the Italian peninsula. Coupled with this, there are many smaller tectonic fault lines that traverse the Apennine Mountains, which is a range that runs from the north to the south of Italy (often referred to as the spine of Italy).

This all makes for a very complicated geological structure that results in many smaller earthquakes and occasionally some really big ones.

A History of Earthquakes

Earthquakes in Italy are not a new phenonium, in fact, more than 400 destructive earthquakes have been documented over the last 2000 years, and there have been 15 major ones in the country since 1905, the worst of which was the Messina quake in 1908 which claimed 70,000 lives and had a magnitude of 7.1.

The L’Aquila Earthquake

In more recent history there was a major earthquake centred around the city of L’Aquila in the region of Abruzzo in central Italy. The 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck at 3.32 am on the 6th April 2009, followed by a series of further quakes (or aftershocks) killing more than 300 people and damaging over 10,000 buildings.

News Report - The L'Aquila Quake

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We returned to Italy, and the Abruzzo region a couple of months after the quake, to the town we feel, is our second home, to hear stories from our friends, some of whom had been so scared in the quake they had taken to camping outside or sleeping in their cars for weeks. The quake had been so strong here, around 35 miles from the epicentre, that many buildings were severely damaged, including the historic (and main) church where giant support columns had been twisted out of position by the incredible underground forces.

The restoration work as a result of the damage has continued for many years, with giant cranes adorning the town’s skyline, especially around the church.

Our Experience of An Italian Earthquake

Maybe we are all becoming a little immunised against the tragedies that seem to happen on a daily basis - I'm sure it hasn't always been this way - but I think the constant stream of media and TV has made us all a little numb, a little disconnected. On the 24th of August 2016 at 3.36 in the morning, there was another earthquake in the central region of Italy. We didn't hear about it on the news or social media. We knew about it when it literally shook us out of our beds - no immunity, no feeling numb - Just the immediate realisation that some massive force you have absolutely no control over has just rudely shaken you awake - and now everything is just instinct. We heard our neighbour shouting up the stairs "Terremoto, terremoto!" (Earthquake, earthquake!) - and we grabbed essentials (passports, jackets, chocolate...) and ran.

In the street, at the quietest of hours, the town had woken up, with cars racing up and down the street like it was rush hour, families with half-asleep children spilt from the apartments and houses.

The aftermath of the Amatrice earthquake

The aftermath of the Amatrice earthquake

To Safety

We made for the park, to safety, where the local cafe had re-opened, and drank coffee with friends. Some blankets were handed out, and, inevitably, because this is Italy, someone was offering cake around. The sense of community was palpable and offered a sense of reassurance, whilst we all checked our social media, jumped at the random aftershocks and watched the light bulbs ominously swinging.

After a while, we snatched some fractured sleep in our small rental car for an hour or two. No one was hurt in our town, we were lucky - but we knew, at that time, that somewhere not too far away there would be people not so lucky. The deaths in the towns of Amatrice and Accumoli, the epicentre of the earthquake (about 47 miles from our town in Italy), and the surrounding towns totalled over 290. It takes years to rebuild after an earthquake of this magnitude (6.2), and of course, that only means the infrastructure - the emotional shock-waves go on for generations. This massive earthquake damaged property in over 140 towns and villages in the region, injuring over 388 and displacing over 41000 inhabitants in the centre of Italy.

My family and I were lucky, but we are not so immune now, and understand a little more, when we see the havoc that these natural phenomena wreak around the world.

Works Cited

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Jerry Cornelius

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