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By "other" I don't mean secondary or unimportant; I mean "in addition to" the related items listed on the left, above. I am using "severe" in terms of loss of life, not nessarily seismic intensity. In each of the quakes listed above as well as the first three of the additional ones, below (1857, 1930 and 1980) at least 1,000 persons lost their lives. I have also listed two quakes since 1980, in Aquila (2009) and Amatrice (2016) of lesser intensity and loss of life but nevertheless significant and tragic. By way of comparison, the most powerful earthquake ever measured by modern seismology was the Valdivia earthquake or Great Chilean earthquake of 22 May, 1960. Various studies have placed it at 9.4–9.6 on the moment magnitude scale (MMS). The resulting tsunami affected every bit of land in or bordering on the Pacific ocean. Waves as high as 10.7 meters (35 ft) were recorded 10,000 kilometerss (6,200 mi) from the epicenter, and as far away as Japan and the Philippines.
—1857, December 16. Montemurro is a small town at 723 meters (2372 feet) elevation about 160 km (100 miles) SE of Naples in the province of Potenza, south of the town of Potenza, itself. On December 16, 1857, it was the epicenter of what would come to be known for some time as the Great Neapolitan Earthquake ("Neapolitan" as in the Kingdom of Naples, not the city of Naples). On the Modified Mercalli scale, which measures perceived effects on the environment (from 1 to 12 with 12 being "total devastation"), the Montemurro quake is estimated to have been a 9; that is, violent, destructive, producing general panic and capable of collapsing walls and damaging even some well-built structures. On the Richter scale, which registers seismic intensity, it is estimated to have been 6.9 and on the recent Moment Magnitude scale, 7.0. The town of Montemurro lost 3000 persons out of its total population of 7,500. Numerous towns and villages were partially destroyed in the Italian regions ("states") of Basilicata and Campania (primarily in their provinces of Potenza and Salerno, respectively. The quake was felt as far north as Terracina, 100 km (60 miles) north of Naples. Estimated loss of life was between 11,000 and 12,000 persons, but some sources claim as many 19,000 deaths.
Robert Mallet (1810–1881), the Irish geophysicist sometimes called the father of seismology, spent two months in the stricken Italian region and in 1862 produced an extensive report for the Royal Society entitled Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857: The First Principles of Observational Seismology (Chapman & Hall, London. 1862). It is extremely detailed with numerous illustrations and even early photography and is a foundation work of modern seismology. In the preface, the author stressed the importance of studying this event by reminding us that "The earthquake of December, 1857, by almost the first notices that reached England, revealed itself as the third greatest in extent and severity of which there is any record of having occurred in Europe." *
—1930, July 23. This quake was originally called the "Irpinia earthquake". (Irpinia is the region of the Apennine mountain range near the town of Avellino, 40 km east of Naples). The quake is now called the "Vulture earthquake" to distinguish it from the 1980 Irpinia quake in the same area (see item below this one). The term "Vulture" sounds eerie, especially given the circumstances, and is likely etymologically related to the scavenger bird called "vulture" in English and avvoltoio in Italian; in this case, however, it comes from the name of the area, itself, deriving from Mt. Vulture, the Italian name of an extinct volcano and one of the prominent features of the landscape in that area. Many of the badly damaged towns were at the foot of that mountain. On the Mercalli scale, the Vulture quake was a 10—i.e., intense and destructive, producing large landslides and severely damaging or collapsing even well-built structures. On the Richter scale it was 6.7. There were 1,404 deaths. The epicenter was near the point where the Italian regions of Campania, Basilicata and Puglia come together, that is, somewhat to the east of the town of Avellino, itself. The most heavily hit town was Lacedonia, 100 km east of Naples. The town is at 732 meters (2400 feet) elevation and was almost precisely at the epicenter. Lacedonia lost 600 persons (of a total population of about 5,000). Of the total deaths of more than 1400, 75% were in the province of Avellino. In most areas, 70% of houses were destroyed, largely due to the poor characteristics of the land that the towns and villages had been built on—mainly clay and sandy soils with layers of gravel—and to the poor quality of the buildings, themselves, with houses built with river stones and held together by poor quality mortar or even by dried mud. Considering the intensity of the quake, the death toll might well have been much higher had not many villagers been sleeping in the fields during the wheat harvest. Five aftershocks were reported on July 25, which collapsed a number of already damaged buildings, but no new deaths were reported.
Rescue efforts after the Vulture quake.
(Domenica del Corriere, Aug 3, 1930)
—1980, November 23. This one is now the "Irpinia earthquake". It centered on the town of Conza della Campania (commonly shortened to Conza) in the province of Avellino at an altitude of 594 meters (1948 feet), 85 km east of Naples. (The photo, right, is of that small town after the earthquake. Most buildings toppled down the mountainside. The ones that remained on the hill were left partially or totally destroyed. The hilltop site for the town was abandoned; post-earthquake reconstruction built the modern town of Conza a short distance away.) This Irpinia quake measured 6.9 on the Richter scale and 10 on the Mercalli scale. It killed 2,914 people. Towns in the province of Avellino were devastated. I remember the quake and exactly what I was doing when it hit. I was watching television in Naples, miles from the epicenter. At first, I mistook the initial movement for passing traffic four floors below at street level. That perception lasted just a few seconds. It was a "rolling quake" that built up and diminished over 90 seconds. (The severe sway that I felt was exaggerated because I was on the top floor, but I really did think for a second that the building was just going to fall over!) The quake hit at about 7.30 in the evening, and almost everyone fled out onto the streets. Many of them stayed out there all night, indeed for some nights after the quake. There were also a considerable number of aftershocks.
Conza della Campania
The local news reports were mostly guesswork at first. One paper speculated that 10,000 people might have died. The damage and deaths were spread over a very large area. Out of 679 towns in the eight provinces of Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Matera, Napoli, Potenza, Salerno e Foggia (in the three Italian regions of Campania, Basilicata and Puglia), 506 suffered damage. I have read a claim that "dozens of structures in Naples were flattened, including a 9-story apartment building". That is misleading. It is true that an apartment building, indeed, collapsed on via Stadera in the Poggioreale section of Naples, killing 52 persons. That, obviously, is a tragedy, but if "dozens of structures were flattened," the others must have been smaller buildings where no one was living, because, to my knowledge, that apartment building was the only inhabited one to collapse and kill people in the city of Naples. (There were about 20 other deaths in Naples related to the earthquake; that is, from partial collapses of building facades, falling objects, etc.) Most of the damage and death occurred "in the provinces," as they say; that included such towns as Sant'Angelo dei Lombardi in the province of Avellino, where 482 persons (out of a population of about 5,000) died including 27 children in an orphanage. The town was totally destroyed. Since most deaths in these situations are the result of buildings collapsing on people, if the quake had occurred a few hours later when people were inside and asleep, the death toll would have been much greater.[See also "earthquake memories" from August 2016]
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