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April 5, 2009

Earthquake in central Italy
Posted by Patrick at 11:45 PM *

Well, that was interesting. We woke up just past 3:30 AM. “Is that you shaking the bed?” I said. “It is absolutely not me,” said Teresa. Then all the car alarms in our Rome neighborhood went off.

We knew pretty immediately that it had been an earthquake, which is kind of an alarming thing when you’re in a city built entirely out of bricks, stone, and concrete. We managed to get back to sleep, but now it’s two hours later, I’m awake at half past five, and according to reports now coming in it was a 6.3, centered about 50 miles to the east-northeast. Initial reports are focusing on the town of l’Aquila, where there are evidently collapsed buildings and reports of fatalities. Holy cats.

More: Shakemap, population exposure chart, and historic seismicity map.

We were just in the countryside of central Italy the day before yesterday—not near l’Aquila, but more to the north-northeast, in the Sabine Hills—and while it’s easy to say that all of those ancient stone buildings have survived a lot of shaking, not every structure is ancient or, for that matter, well-built. It’s easy to imagine a California-level temblor causing non-trivial damage—as, indeed, some have done in living memory.

Comments on Earthquake in central Italy:
#1 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 12:12 AM:

Thanks to Elise Matthesen for gathering some of of the above links while I wrote the post! Instant messaging can be a net plus for productivity in some circumstances.

#2 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 12:18 AM:

More, in a not-so-great machine translation, from an Italian news source:

"(ANSA) - ROME, MAY 6 - The Civil Defense announced that because of the collapse caused the earthquake in Italy there are victims in the province of L'Aquila. In the capital there are many collapsed buildings: churches and historic buildings, dwelling houses and public buildings. Severe damage in villages and towns in several smaller towns. For checks and controls on viaducts and 'closed the stretch of the motorway Rome-L'Aquila (A24) between Valle del Salto Assergi and in both directions."


(Where's Anna? We got Italian speakers/readers around?)

#3 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 12:22 AM:

More bad machine translation, this one from Radionostalgia in Italy:

"L'Aquila - The eighty thousand inhabitants of L'Aquila are all refugees. The City 'and' was seriously damaged by the earthquake last night which destroyed the historic center. Bell towers of churches collapsed, gutted buildings, public buildings seriously damaged. The people are gathered in the squares: Piazza Duomo, Piazza Palazzo, Piazza Castello. Began to flow in L'Aquila first media soccorsso Civil Protection. Many people are paying at this time to the elderly salvagattio remained locked in the home. We talk about the dead thing is not 'absolutely unlikely because' there are collapsed buildings with the first shock. On the faces of people and 'printed panic. Besotted people wrapped in blankets. People who run with very few clothes on him, the few clothes that have managed to snatch hastily before leaving home."

#4 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 12:30 AM:

From Wall Street Italia:
"Rubble and landslides, the Center Director daily scenes moon
Rome, Apr. 6. (Apcom) - Scene "moon": the entire population in L'Aquila is in the street after the strong earthquake and the subsequent reply that hit last night L'Aquila and its province. The images are exclusive of Rai News 24 and show rubble on the ground everywhere, collapsed structures, a thick dust covering everything and a lot of people on the street that moves the rubble that is trying to provide relief by digging with your hands. Many cars are on the streets and the traffic is intense. The director of The Center Daily Abruzzi, Luigi Vicinanza, on the phone with the TV broadcaster talks of "scenes moon" and says that the earthquake, with epicenter at L'Aquila, has been clearly perceived in the whole Abruzzo. Feverish moment in the work of firefighters, the men of civil protection, health and the means of law enforcement."

Rai News, to which that bit refers, is reporting here.

#5 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 12:52 AM:

Apparently, there are reports of several casualties, including four children.

Only a few hours earlier, a deep 4.6 shake was reported further north, between Ravenna and Urbino.

This is the Karmic balance for having beautiful, high, recently-formed mountains: lots of seismic activity and volcanoes.

#6 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 12:54 AM:

From The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, but ANSA said it was a 5.8 quake, centered at L'Aquila. The quake was felt in Rome and elsewhere in central Italy, ANSA said.The Italian news agency said there were reports of injuries, and a report that firefighters were trying to get some people out of a collapsed house. The quake destroyed several buildings and drove many residents into the streets, and one report said the dome of the Church of the Holy Souls in L'Aquila collapsed. ANSA said a large number of people appeared to be in shock and a relief center had been set up. Electric and telephone service was said to be disrupted. Italy has experienced major earthquakes in the past, CNN said, citing the USGS. A 7.2-magnitude quake and a tsunami killed an estimated 72,000 people in 1908 in Messina, Italy, and a 6.5 quake killed 3,000 people in southern Italy in 1980.

#7 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 12:58 AM:

Fatalities at nine, at last report.

Officials are asking people to stay off the roads, avoid hindering first responders, and don't try to contact your relatives yet.

Hey, there are reports of rugby player heroes:

"(AGI) - L'Aquila, Apr. 6. - Many older people owe their lives to so many acts of heroism that last night marked one of his most 'unpleasant experience from the capital of Abruzzo. Rugby players dell'Aquila rescued three elderly women in the rubble of their home. One of these players and 'even loaded the woman on the shoulder without detaching the cylinder of oxygen for breathing. You dig with their hands in many homes where it is assumed to be of the bodies under the rubble. (AGI)"

-- from Sport-OGGI, and again my apologies for machine translation, but I got no Italian.

#8 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:12 AM:

"Scenes moon" above should read "lunar-like landscape".

More reports are coming in, italian speakers can monitor this page from newspaper La Repubblica: an entire village near L'Aquila (Castelnuovo of S.Pio delle Camere) collapsed, including the local church. There are five deaths from that village, including a child.

13 casualties have been reported in total. 4 of them are children who were sleeping in some sort of orphanage in L'Aquila, the entire building collapsed. Fifteen-thousand houses around L'Aquila are currently without electricity.

(This reminds me that they are going to build a bridge between Italy and Sicily, in one of the most active seismic areas on the planet. Funny, isn't it?)

#9 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:17 AM:

man... one forgets what good building codes mean. those are numbers which are serious, but not what I would expect to be devastating.

Not that I think Italy doesn't have good codes, but they have a lot of old buildings (just like downtown SLO, where a big shake could do a lot of damage).

#10 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:19 AM:

Il Corriere della Serais reporting very slowly (probably because it's not based in Rome like Repubblica), but says that even the building hosting the local chapter of fast-response task force for natural disasters (Protezione Civile) collapsed in L'Aquila.

#11 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:23 AM:

From the NYT:

Hundreds of L’Aquila’s 80,000 residents rushed from their houses and gathered in the central Piazza Duomo, where nuns from a local convent attended to frightened residents, ANSA reported.

#12 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:31 AM:

Terry, Italy introduced good codes after a few terrible earthquakes in the 70s and 80s, with hundreds of victims (and there's still people living in "temporary" accommodation, because much reconstruction money ended up in the pockets of the usual suspects), but having good building codes doesn't mean they are actually applied. Every time this happens, it turns out that something "newish" (likely a school or some other public building) was not actually well-built.

On a different note, the ass-covering is already in full swing. Despite reporting several movements in the area for the last few weeks, Protezione Civile are now saying that such a big movement was not predictable, or at least "not on a scientific basis; unfortunately it's not yet possible to predict such events".

#13 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:38 AM:

Giacomo, that sounds like Italy has its share of Bobby Jindal-like pols: "who needs volcano monitoring?"

#14 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:39 AM:

Italian press reporting thousands of people displaced from their homes. Also, reports in Spoleto of people who remember '97 and who decided to go sleep in their cars for the rest of the night, rather than go back indoors.

#15 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:39 AM:

From BBC: "Powerful earthquakes are relatively rare in Italy. In 2002, an earthquake in the southern Italian town of San Giuliano di Puglia killed more than 20 people. In 1997, 13 people died when a strong earthquake struck Italy's central region."

A dozens victim every 5-to-10 years is "relatively rare"? Compared to what?

#16 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:52 AM:

This hotel is no more, according to reports. Newish building. Their webserver is also down.

#17 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 02:14 AM:

Yeah, everything I've been seeing from the Italian press says the Hotel Duca degli Abruzzi is completely destroyed, and that rescue workers are digging through it as best they can. Reports were that the whole block was down, but I don't know if I'm reading that right.

Also, no word yet on a lot of little towns and villages in the region.

Long morning, long day, there. Prayers ongoing for the rescuers and those in need.

#18 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 02:25 AM:

Anna just woke up, and is pretty shaken, having survived a 2,000 fatalities quake when she was 10, apropos of which she doesn't feel warm fuzzy feelings for the BBC's claim that earthquakes in Italy are "relatively rare".

And yes, we do have good building codes, to the point that I get mighty scares here in England because there is NO WAY my current residence would survive even a Richter 5.

But: a) there are still plenty of pre-code buildings around (Aquila has last been levelled by a quake in the seventeen century; Udine was flattened in 1500 and something, which is why there are no buildings older than that.)

And b) as Giacomo said, if people haven't had a quake nearby in living memory they do cut corners.

Rome, as far as I know, is not particularly vulnerable to quakes: otherwise all those old stones wouldn't be around. Messina on the other hand, Any Day Now.

There are ways to build bridges so that they don't collapse at the first earthquake, and anyway, some time you just have to build them anyway, else San Francisco would be pretty hard to get to. And having lived in Sicily, and travelled there by train, I think that the Messina Strait Bridge is a wonderful idea, although of course it will mean a whole lot of money in the wrongest possible pockets. But then it wouldn't do much for Sicily as long as the current administraion is in power, and it's a long story anyway.

7 fatalities is of course the right now figure: it will grow as they get around counting piles of rubble.

BTW, Protezione Civile was instituted after the 1976 quake in my part of Italy, because back then emergency aid was carried out by soldiers and volunteers. My parents took off the day after the quake and went to help, but of course there are drawbacks to an army of untrained volunteers.

#19 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 03:19 AM:

Sounds like various cities and towns are sending trained rescue workers to help out, especially those who have gone through it themselves.

Current report is 27 people known dead, and thousands of people homeless.

From what I can understand of the stories in the Italian press, it sounds like there was a lot of seismic activity in the region for the last few months, yah? And that some schools in L'Aquila were closed recently due to concerns about safety?

#20 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 03:42 AM:

Nearly all medieval monuments in L'Aquila have been damaged. The bell tower of the Basilica of San Bernardino has collapsed and its apse was seriously damaged. The church of Anime Sante in Piazza Duomo no longer has a dome. The Cathedral of L'Aquila was not damaged. There are also reports on damage to the Basilica of Santa Maria in Collemaggio.

from AGI

#21 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 05:14 AM:

The hospital in L'Aquila is now without drinking water. The number of people forced on the streets, if reports are to be trusted (it's Italy, we like drama) would total in the hundreds of thousands. Man, it seems to read a post by Jim MacDonald.

Elise @19: yes, there had been lots of small- and medium-scale seismic activity in the last few weeks. They closed schools for a day last week to check for damages, and defined four schools as unsuitable.

These checks are quite common these days, after a (newish) school collapsed in southern Italy in 2002 (during one of those "relatively rare" shocks), killing 27 children.

#22 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 05:43 AM:

I thought they totally evacuated the hospital in Aquila, and had a field hospital tent set up outside... where's that report?

No, wait. I was wrong. It's the university hospital there that's evacuated. But the other one isn't doing so well either:

Hundreds, some in shock and others sobbing, waited outside L'Aquila's main hospital for treatment, ANSA news agency reported. Doctors treated people in the open air as only one operating room was functioning, the agency said.

The city's university hospital was declared off limits for fear it would collapse and the worst victims were being taken by helicopter to other cities."

from The New Straits Times Online

Italian officials are suggesting people who want to help should donate blood -- and stay off the roads in the region, both to keep them open for rescue workers and because they're not sure the bridges are safe.

Also, I'm intrigued by this, and again pardon the machine-translation:

"And through the mouth of blog sites for information and social network spreads the news that a researcher at the National Laboratory of Gran Sasso, Giampaolo Giuliani, had foreseen the risk of a violent earthquake, but was denounced by the head of civil protection Guido Bertolaso just a week ago for the scare of his statements. After the earthquake, however, raised the anger of bloggers el'indignazione."


There's a YouTube video of Giampaolo Giuliani, but I can't find the link to it right now. He was measuring the levels of gases released, with a hope of correlating them with seismic activity, from what I could make out, and he said hey, something's coming.

Then again, people are always saying something's coming. But if he had data, that's interesting and possibly very useful....

#23 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 05:49 AM:

My aunt lives in Castelnuovo of S.Pio delle Camere & we have not heard from her as of yet. If someone has firsthand knowledge of what is going on in this very small town or knows who the dead are could you please contact me, our family is frantic?

#24 ::: Linda Lindsey ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 06:51 AM:

Wow. I was in Adana, Turkey in 1998 when that earthquake hit and it was only a 5.6(?). The devastation was unbelievable, so I can imagine what Italy is going to discover in the coming weeks. And I don't blame you for not getting back to sleep.

#25 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 07:04 AM:

Yeah, Giuliani said it was coming last week, it didn't happen and he got sued by Protezione Civile, so obviously he didn't say a word this time.

It's true that earthquake prediction is a difficult business, if all the "scares" were accepted half of Italy would be evacuated every other week. It's also true that Protezione Civile could have spared themselves the embarrassment of suing the guy, especially since they admit that they knew something was possible (and indeed were quite fast in responding to the emergency).

Apparently at least one rescue party was organized through Facebook, by a friend of one of the students unaccounted for. The bodycount meanwhile reached 50 and I would expect it to rise a bit further.

Tina, I really wish I could help but I'm just translating stuff from the safety of an office in UK. I'm sure you know this already, but Protezione Civile are the only ones who can help your family right now. You can try "Centro operativo della Protezione Civile presso la Prefettura di Pescara, 085 2057631", which is the same number for people who can volunteer help on the ground.

#26 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 07:21 AM:

Probably the scariest picture is this one.

Also, this used to be a City Council.

#27 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 07:47 AM:

Holy Schimoley--glad you two are safe and out of the region.

And that photo, Giacomo, is truly horrifying, the buildings leaning every which way.


#28 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 08:09 AM:

Those two photographs are truly frightening, Giacomo.

#29 ::: Christopher Kastensmidt ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 08:14 AM:

Take care of yourselves!

Sounds like a fantastic trip overall.

#30 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 08:35 AM:

Damn, the first image was pulled and replaced with an enlargement of the second one. It was too scary, I guess.

#31 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 08:35 AM:

The internet is wonderful. I wake up, see there was a quake in Italy, immediately start worrying about Patrick and Teresa, look here and see this... thank goodness you're OK. But now I have the chilly reassurance of "at least I know my friends are fine, the dead were someone else's friends, not mine."

#32 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 08:46 AM:

Somehow, listening to one of the survivors broke my "rationalizing field", and I can't stand it any more.
I wonder how journalists can go on, talking to all these people who lost friends, family, their children... the toll is now at 100 and still rising.

Need a break. Surely one is not supposed to cry at his desk.

#33 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 09:37 AM:

Patrick... Is this the first earthquake you ever experienced? Glad to hear that Teresa and you are ok.

#34 ::: MeganRebekah ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 09:55 AM:

The earthquake was the first thing I read about this morning. I'm glad you all are okay!


#35 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 09:57 AM:

The Umbrian earthquake in 1997 severely damaged the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi and killed ten people.

#36 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 10:25 AM:

I'm glad you're OK. My heart goes out to the victims and their families.

#37 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 10:43 AM:

Yes, same here: my heart goes out to the victims, and also shuddering at the thought of lovely old buildings going away. Guys, I'm glad you're all right. I've been reading Don Camillo stories for the last week or so, and it sounds pretty dumb to say it, but that kind of personalizes the victims.

Hats off to those rugby players helping people.

#38 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 11:00 AM:

Yikes! I'm glad you're both okay, and sorry lots of other people aren't.

#39 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 11:11 AM:

Serge, no, not our first. We were in the Bay Area just a couple of days after Loma Prieta, and experienced enough aftershocks to get genuinely edgy about it. And a few years later I was in San Francisco for a nice little jolt that happened just as I was sitting on an open-air balcony high up on Embarcadero Center.

I've never been in the middle of a big one, though I have plenty of friends who have. All told, it's a life experience I'd be just as happy to miss...

#40 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 11:17 AM:

Patrick @ 39... My first one also was 1989's. I was back home in the East Bay, walking the dog. It's very disorienting to see something that's supposed to be solid instead quivering up and down like it's on top of jell-o.

#41 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 11:36 AM:

I awoke at 3:30 to the bed shaking. Patrick asked if I were doing that. I said I wasn't; and then, "I'm fairly sure we're having an earthquake."

It's a helpless feeling: will it stop soon? Will it get worse? Will the building fall down? I lay there and listened to our hotel -- it's in an old, heavy, multi-story masonry building -- make snapping and cracking sounds as it shook. I reminded myself that it's an old building that so far hasn't fallen down, and that Rome is full of very old buildings that haven't fallen down.

Outside, we could hear car alarms going off. The shaking gradually subsided. We jittered for a while, then went back to sleep.

I was thinking just the other day, when I was way down in the lowest levels under San Clemente, that it would be a rotten place to get caught by an earthquake.

#42 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 11:45 AM:

Possible clarification of earlier statements -- @15, et seq. -- (from the New York Times Online):"Seismic activity is relatively common in Italy, but intensity like Monday's quake is rare." The BBC may have intended to emphasize the intensity of the earthquake, not the frequency of quakes. It certainly read as though they were saying quakes didn't happen too often, although the listing of quakes then undermines that statement.

#43 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 12:12 PM:

I'm glad you guys are okay, and full of sorrow for the people who were hurt or killed, or made homeless. Those pictures of the Palazzo del Governo are harrowing.

I have a New Yorker's insular belief that somehow earthquakes are supposed to happen somewhere else (of course now I live in Northern California, Home To Earthquakes). Clicking through the Historic Seismicity link I was startled to see, not only NYC on the list of significant loci, but New Jersey (who knew New Jersey ever had an earthquake?) and Rhode Island. Dammit, the earth is supposed to stay in one place; isn't that what you pay it for?

#44 ::: Glen Blankenship ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 03:12 PM:

The other thing to remember is that history is no guarantee.

Mid-plate quakes - like the four massive Mag.7-8 temblors known as the New Madrid series that struck eastern Missouri and western Tennessee in 1811-1812, or the Mag ~7.2 that devastated Charleston South Carolina in 1886, can happen almost anywhere, with little or no warning - and with no significant seismicity in historical memory.

Here in Southern California, we get plate-margin quakes, which are far more predictable. The big quakes are accompanied by constant, ongoing small-to-medium quakes that keep everyone on their toes.

And we have very little vulnerable construction, since there wasn't much here before people figured out that heavy unreinforced building materials like brick, adobe, and stone are very, very bad ideas in seismically-active areas.

We're much better prepared, so even large quakes directly under heavily-populated areas do relatively little damage.

A mid-plate quake the size of the '94 Northridge quake, striking a similarly populated area with lots of unreinforced brick and stone buildings and no prior history of significant seismicity, could easily kill hundreds of thousands of people.

#45 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 04:34 PM:

Yup, we're sad about the people killed or injured, and for the damage to interesting & useful buildings, but at least we can realize that it happened at about the best possible time. At 3:30 a.m. people are as widely & sparsely distributed as they'll ever get. Look upon those photos of sidewalks & streets piled cartop-high with stone, and think about their busiest time of day, or of the church that no longer has a dome, and think about Easter Morning Mass.

#46 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 05:15 PM:

Talking Points Memo has a short collection of photos.

#47 ::: green_knight ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 07:15 PM:

Patrick & Teresa, glad you're ok. This is, indeed, a missable experience. (I was in SF a week before the quake in 1989. On that bridge. I still shudder.)

Glen @44: Even Australia had its share of earthquakes (that nobody talks about).

#48 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 08:05 PM:

I am more jaded than Giacomo because I lived through the Friuli 1976 earthquake. I was evacuated (well, we rented a house by the sea, mostly because my grandmother was too scared to go on living on the fifth floor), I tagged along as my mom did helped out with the refugees, I saw the pictures, and so on.

A train is going by as I write. At night, it's freight trains that rumble along those tracks and they shake this house like a Mercalli 4. And every time my breath catches and my head goes a bit light. Due to a series of coincidences, I was always in a car when the two major quakes struck (I thought aliens had landed). But I did catch a relatively modest aftershock on the day my parents decided It Was All Over And We Could Go Back Home (home being a flat on the fourth floor). The sound of bricks sliding on bricks is not something I will ever forget. Houses are more elastic than you realize, but that noise is just something that is Wrong.

That was 2,000 dead, and the 1980 one in Campania was 3,000. It was in Campania that poor old Pertini - then President of the Republic - broke down in tears and cursed the absence of any kind of relief a week after the event.

This one is a comparatively small event, with comparatively few fatalities. Comparatively being the key word. We are after all a high-density country were people cut corners on everything, so collapsing dams, rivers of mud, quakes and just simply schools that give up and flop over all the children of the village are not uncommon.

Earthquakes are genuinely impossible to predict. I read the interview with the radon guy and the quake he can predict with 6-48 hours of accuracy was supposed to happen last month. So I'd say his system still has a while to go.

What you can do, of course, is prepare beforehand and give succor afterwords. For a good many years Protezione Civile was one of the few actually well-functioning bodies in Italy. Then the competent guy who ran it was replaced with a political appointee.

And, despite the immediate tragedy of the dead, the problem will be long-term for those who have lost their houses, because if experience is any guidance they won't be getting a new one any time soon.

#49 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 10:24 PM:

Charleston? CHARLESTON? I have a son, daughter-in-law, and twin grands in Charleston. I didn't know Charleston had a major quake. Not bad enough I worry about hurricanes every summer. Now I have to worry about earthquakes there?


#50 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 10:45 PM:

janeyolen @ 49 ...
Hell - you've even got minor seismic activity up near the Canadian shield... (and some folk claiming a big one's overdue there as well, iirc).

#51 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 11:05 PM:

Teresa and Patrick, I'm glad y'all are safe. And my prayers are with those who lost their home and loved ones. Houses can be replaced, people cannot.

I also feel for those who cannot return to their homes because April can be a cruel month, one day warm and bright, next day cold and rainy/snowy.

#52 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 11:48 PM:

Jane, yeah, sorry to say, but Charleston is a seismically active area, though not as active as some other places.

What I'm about to show you might not put your mind at ease, but I'm kind of a geology-and-tectonics geek, so I can't help answering and posting links. (I'm not a very good geek, even, but I do find the stuff the earth gets up to, well, riveting.)

OK, Charleston: historically, yeah, it's a seismically active area. The biggest earthquake there was in 1886, on September 1st. It was a 7.3; 60 people were killed and pretty much every building in town was damaged, and some were destroyed. If you visit Charleston, you'll see a lot of repairs on the oldest houses; ask the locals to point out the earthquake bolts. If you read this page on the 1886 quake, I strongly encourage you to click on the link at the bottom that says, "Lesson Learned from the Charleston Quake -- from the San Francisco Chronicle, May 06, 1906" - it's fascinating.) After the quake, there were continuing afterhocks, and many people camped in the parks, as shown in some of the photos linked at the top of that page. (There's a book called Charleston, Come Hell or High Water, which has a lot of photos of the 1886 quake, as well as some other rather vivid moments in that city's history.)

Here's a seismic hazard map of South Carolina.

P.S. My personal area of seismic fascination in the US is New Madrid, Missouri. The New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, a series of 3 magnitude 8 quakes, were serious stuff: they say they made the Mississippi flow backwards for a few minutes, the earth opened and swallowed a village, and the biggest shocks rang church bells in Washington, D.C. and were felt in New Hampshire. For those of you who don't think the central US has any seismicity to speak of, I refer you to this map.

Pardon this digression into US earthquake history. We now return you to the wider world, already in progress. For the latest info on earthquakes, whether world-wide or US-specific, check the USGS page at, which has maps and lists.

#53 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 12:07 AM:

Jane, there's a post in the mod queue with Charleston info; too many URLs, I think, so it'll show up later.

Meanwhile, there was another aftershock in Italy. 4.9, this one, I think it was.

Prayers ongoing.

#54 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 12:51 AM:

We live uncomfortably close to the New Madrid fault, being in Kansas City, MO.

On the other hand, there are some really deep faults that occasionally vibrate mildly under us, Plus the occasional forgotten mineshafts/cave subsidence that shows up on seismometers.

#55 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 01:16 AM:

I live in Western Oregon, where history says there will be an a 8+ quake any day now. That's any day now through the next century or so. I keep some emergency supplies on hand -- the usual sort of preparations. And I'm very, very grateful for stick-frame construction. Looking at pictures of piles of rubble, I think my two-story stud-framed house is a lot more likely to sway and survive (somewhat cracked) than it is to collapse.
So the quake will strike during the day when I'm in a tall brick office building, right?

#56 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 01:48 AM:

elise @ #52, I followed your advice and that link. It was meant to be uplifting for the citizens of SF, I suppose, and I imagine it was. All outside communication from and to Charleston was out of commission for 30-something hours; all telegraph wires had been knocked down. What I really liked was this, referring to the guy who made it to the next town over the following day:

At the same time he brought back the cheering message that the world was not utterly destroyed, as many had believed.

#57 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:07 AM:

Patrick and Teresa: I'm glad you're OK. Reading this post was the first I heard of the quake.

As someone who as part of my job deals with government documents, which nowadays includes online ones, I feel the need to share this information for people in the U.S. to refer to:

The U.S. Geological Survey has a lot of information about earthquakes and seismic activity -- and history and likelihood of same -- at their website,

Among the information there is a list of major earthquakes in every state. And I think they really do mean every; I didn't notice any state's name missing from the list.

Of course some states have more (a long list for California) than others (e.g., Vermont) and some have stronger ones (Missouri -- the second New Madrid quake is listed as 8.0 on the Richter scale) than others (Maryland's only quake is listed as 2.5, and Wisconsin's doesn't even have a Richter number).

You can click here for more info on your state or region:

One of the most interesting things I found was a PDF document about earthquakes in Ohio and neighboring states, including parts of Ontario, at
with some interesting maps. Especially for those of us who live in or near Ohio, of course! (I live in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia, only 2 miles from the state line, which is the Ohio River.) Apparently there have been a few quakes less than 100 miles from here (notably one 5.3 about 11 years ago in northwestern PA), enough to do damage to buildings, but none terribly nearby and none that caused fatalities. We have problems in this area, to be sure, but at least earthquakes aren't high on our list.

I don't know what information other countries have online (or off, for that matter) about earthquakes. If anyone does know and wants to share, I suspect others would be interested.

#58 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:25 AM:

Linkmeister, that's my favorite line too.

#59 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 05:38 AM:

Jane, you know about the tsunami that hit the east coast of Scotland, yes?

(We're probably safe from another Storegga slide -- barring a snap ice age followed by a brief interglacial -- but it just goes to show: nowhere is safe.)

#60 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 08:31 AM:

I'm glad you are both all right as well, and sad about those who have suffered losses. Belgian media is following this closely, as there is a huge Italian community here and many relief efforts are being organized.

Last night, a news report ran graphs of a shifting mountain range running across Italy, saying it was the first time the images had been made available. Does this sound familiar to anyone? I've been trying to find more details, but it seems to match the East-West fault line, so I'm curious about the "never seen before" claim.

I hope the homeless find semi-permanent to permanent shelter soon, and can only be thankful that this did not happen in the dead of winter.

I grew up in a country on the Pacific ring of fire, and earthquakes were a regular occurrence. One never gets used to earthquakes.

#61 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 10:14 AM:

If you want to hear what a quake sounds like, here's "mine"

This was relatively far from the epicentre, in Tricesimo.

Even worse is this, from a local radio station in Irpinia:

And this is video of what Friuli looked like the morning of May 7 1976.

#62 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 10:59 AM:

elise @52:

Re: New Madrid 1811/1812 -- The Mississippi ran backwards for three days.

The result is called Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee.

#63 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 11:14 AM:

Lori - Three DAYS? Whoah. OK, that's... I hadn't seen that info anywhere yet, though I have seen photos of Reelfoot Lake and the scarps and sand blows and stuff. Whoah.

Back to L'Aquila and environs: they're still rescuing people alive. I got all sniffly just now when I read this:

"In parallel, the Italian Media reported today that 30 hours after the quake, 98-year-old Maria D'Antuono was found alive under the rubble. Sky TG24 pointed out that the woman was fine when recovered, while as per ANSA news agency, she was knitting while waiting to be rescued."

Knitting! Bless her. An excellent calming thing to do, knitting -- and, of course, I HAD to come post about her to ML.

#64 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 11:44 AM:

Elise, my ex-husband's mother, Juanita Coulson, is an avid student of disasters both natural and man-made. Everything I know about New Madrid I learned from her...

#65 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 01:10 PM:

Jo Walton @ 31: "at least I know my friends are fine, the dead were someone else's friends, not mine."

That sounds like it's part of a poem, or maybe needs to be.

#66 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 01:17 PM:

Lexica: No, it's the final couplet of a Shakespearian Sonnet:

At least I know that all my friends are fine—
(The dead are someone else's friends, not mine.)

#67 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 01:18 PM:

...which would be part of a poem, so "no" wasn't the right beginning for that post. Sorry.

#68 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:20 PM:

I heard it on the net, or on the phone:
The earth had opened a half a world away
A mountain shook, a town dissolved to stone
My thoughts were for my friends on holiday

(ok, somebody take that and carry it forward so we can meet up with Jo's final couplet, please?)

#69 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:24 PM:

(It needs to have that barb in it. God, what a line, Jo. I bow to you, because yeah.)

#70 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:51 PM:

I put the earthquake scanners on the screen
and jumped at each incoming IRIS blink
I scanned the news to see what it might mean
Ran foreign press through a translation link

And saw so many countries' headlines end:
"So many dead, but none were (insert name
of countrymen)" We seek our kin, our friend,
Our link. I must confess, I did the same.

#71 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:52 PM:

I heard it on the net, or on the phone:
The earth had opened a half a world away
A mountain shook, a town dissolved to stone
My thoughts were for my friends on holiday,

Who swiftly posted, saying all was well;
Some shaking in their bed, but nothing more.
But none to far from them, from peace to Hell
The world dissolved; with terror, dust, and gore
At least I know that all my friends are fine—
(The dead are someone else's friends, not mine.)

Jo, modified

#72 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:53 PM:

OK, couldn't help it. It jumped on me.
So here's the whole thing:

I heard it on the net, or on the phone:
The earth had opened a half a world away
A mountain shook, a town dissolved to stone
My thoughts were for my friends on holiday

I put the earthquake scanners on the screen
and jumped at each incoming IRIS blink
I scanned the news to see what it might mean
Ran foreign press through a translation link

And saw so many countries' headlines end:
"So many dead, but none were (insert name
of countrymen)" We seek our kin, our friend,
Our link. I must confess, I did the same.

At least I know that all my friends are fine—
(The dead are someone else's friends, not mine.)

[Helluvan indictment, in its way, that. I try to look outside the meosphere, but... well. Humans. Sigh. Anyway, poem, such as it is.]

#73 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:54 PM:

Oooh, Xopher, keep going with yours!

#74 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:55 PM:

Oh, I like yours better. So the whole thing is

I heard it on the net, or on the phone:
The earth had opened a half a world away
A mountain shook, a town dissolved to stone
My thoughts were for my friends on holiday
I put the earthquake scanners on the screen
and jumped at each incoming IRIS blink
I scanned the news to see what it might mean
Ran foreign press through a translation link
And saw so many countries' headlines end:
"So many dead, but none were (insert name
of countrymen)" We seek our kin, our friend,
Our link. I must confess, I did the same.
At least I know that all my friends are fine—
(The dead are someone else's friends, not mine.)

#75 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:56 PM:

The proper use of those lines has to be

At least I know my friends are fine,
the dead were others' friends, not mine.

Which, at eight syllables per line, doesn't work for a Shakespearean sonnet. But does work as the refrain for a ballad.

At least I know my friends are fine
the dead were others' friends, not mine.

So much to see upon the screen,
the pain is palpable and clear;
I hear the words, know what they mean,
the suffering comes through the air.
To dwell on this seems quite obscene
while I'm at work and in my chair;
their lives were wiped out clear and clean,
so I say words of grief and care.

At least I know my friends are fine,
the dead were others' friends, not mine.

The hurricane was on the news,
so many folk thought it was fun
to treat the poor as plain refuse;
face their despair with blade and gun,
pretend they had the right to choose
the easy way to flee or run;
announce these were the only views
and that the time for talk was done.

At least I know my friends are fine,
the dead were others' friends, not mine.

Chaos is hidden by the door,
turn off the radio and you're fine;
the way of good is to ignore
all painful things, be struthionine.
they do not touch us at the core
no matter how the angry whine.
Nobody keeps a final score
or lets us see the bottom line.

At least I know my friends are fine
the dead were others' friends, not mine

#76 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:56 PM:

LOLAM for cross-posting!

#77 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 03:02 PM:

God, Fragano. Yes. Indeed yes, with sharp edges yet.

(Also, thank you for new word; never knew "struthionine" before.)

#78 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 03:33 PM:

Can I add a verse, Fragano?

A single photo left to teach
Me more of grief than I can stand:
Receding waters at the beach
The puzzled swimmers left on sand;
A frightened mother holding each
Of her two children by a hand.
Although they flee, they will not reach
The hills before the wave hits land.

At least I know my friends are fine
the dead were others' friends, not mine.

#79 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 05:34 PM:

Pendrift, #60, I grew up on bases on the Ring of Fire and we had at least one earthquake a year. The big one was in Seattle in 1965. The biggest disaster I've been in was Typhoon Karen.

#80 ::: Janet K ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 06:02 PM:

There's a good book, published in 2004, about the New Madrid earthquakes: The Big One: The Earthquake That Rocked Early America and Helped Create a Science by Jake Page and Charles Officer.

Fascinating stuff.

#82 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 06:21 PM:

Crap. And another one, a 4.6, after that one.

Man, I hope they get a respite.

#83 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 07:09 PM:

abi #78: Your stanza is a wonderful addition. Thank you.

#84 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 05:41 AM:

It's curious how many places that have earthquakes also have a culture of public corruption relating to buildings; you'd think it would literally die out. Possibly, this is an artefact - construction the world over is crooked, and earthquakes just show it up.

#85 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 06:06 AM:

The phrase "someone else" has a conventional quality not shared by the word "other", which matches up with the conventional word "fine", that adds resonance by counterpoint with the non-conventional sentiment. So I find that even though the scansion bobbles a bit, I prefer Jo's original wording.

#87 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 04:41 PM:

Sylvia @ #86

Those blue tents from the Ministero Dell'Interno / Dipartimento del Soccorso Pubblico and the Protezione Civile are quite impressive -- I wish I could believe that our Department of Homeland Security had anything near as good available for disasters here in the US of A.

#88 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 05:31 PM:

Fragano, that ballad is fantastic.
Someone should record it and send profits to charities, or make a viral asking for donations. Where's Bruce Springsteen when you need him?

#89 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 05:50 PM:

Alex@84: I am unconvinced that there is any linkage, or that construction is more generally corrupt than other industries. Italy used to be notorious (whether reasonably or not) for general corruption; China, perhaps as a consequence of Deng being quoted as saying "To get rich is glorious", may have become so.

I suspect that earthquakes simply make the worst of slipshod work, where other corrupt practices have to get really blatant (e.g., melamine in milk) before their effects appear. I also get the impression (from the outside looking in) that construction has a particularly large spread between theory/design and practice -- spread in terms of physical and temporal separation, and possibly including a mixture of contempt and hostility. This would leave lots of room for small slippages to add up (cf the falling tunnel panels in Boston's Big Dig) or for one big slippage not to be checked back far enough to be caught (cf the Kansas City Hyatt disaster, where an unrealistic design was "fixed" at an intermediate point rather than sent back to the originator).

#90 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 01:50 AM:

Is Tina's aunt OK? (#23)

I've been thinking about her since Tina posted, and hoping.

#91 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 01:35 AM:

And with a little remixing, the lines fit into a villanelle:

At least I know my friends are fine.
They don't appear upon the screen.
The dead were others' friends, not mine

I click, and scroll, and read each line,
and try to find the sense between,
at least I know my friends are fine.

No longer blocks of earth align,
where houses stood, survivors keen.
The dead were others' friends, not mine.

Museum, cathedral, bank, and shrine.
No place was safe, not great or mean.
At least I know my friends are fine.

Each post and tweet helps me refine
my picture of the deadly scene.
The dead were others' friends, not mine.

Many faces, ruin obscene;
destruction's face becomes routine.
At least I know my friends are fine.
The dead were others' friends, not mine.

#92 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 10:00 AM:

Bruce, that's a remarkably good one from Jo and you there.

#93 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 11:46 AM:

Oh, come on guys...

And saw so many countries' headlines end:
"So many dead, but none were ours"

#94 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 11:58 AM:

PS: yeah, it doesn't rhyme with the existing lines, but at least there's something to rhyme with!

#95 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2009, 02:08 AM:



#96 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2009, 01:20 PM:

Elise @#95, regarding #70 and #72: I just wanted to fill in some actual word for:

"So many dead, but none were (insert name
of countrymen)"

OK, looking back more carefully, I see you did in fact match "name" with "same" -- at the cost of completely breaking the scan. (And I just read the verse aloud, to check that.) I think I must have misparsed "unscan plus metatext intrusion", as rhyme failure.

Admittedly, I was a little distracted (and cranky) at the time, so I'm sorry if I offended you. (Also, my grasp of poetry is rather primitive....)

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