ECHO Molise
  Emigration and Cultural Heritage of the Molise
BackgroundItaly, especially its southern peninsula, has a long history of earthquakes, some recorded over 700 years ago. Today, scientific study of ancient ruins provides clues to ancient earthquakes.  For example, the walls and foundations of a Samnite sanctuary (links to Samnite history) of the Cult of Hercules near Campochiaro (built about 400 BC) indicate a severe earthquake in the area occurred about 300 BC.  The sanctuary sits on the same fault that was catastrophic in the 1456 AD earthquake.

Mercalli Scale.  In 1883, Giuseppe Mercalli listed more than 5,000 earthquakes throughout Italy between 1450 BC and 1881 AD.  Further, Mercalli invented a scale to describe earthquake intensity, based on subjective observations of the toll of the earthquake on lives and infrastructure.  In 1935, Charles Richter developed a different scale to describe the magnitude of the earthquake, irrespective of its destruction.  Both scales, although modified over time, are still used.  Today, Mercalli rankings are listed as Roman numerals (I to XII) (jumps to Mercalli scale, page bottom) without fractions, whereas Richter rankings are logarithmic numbers 0 to 9, with each full increase of 1 indicating a 10-fold increase in intensity (i.e., a 6.0 quake is 10 times stronger than a 5.0 quake).

Earthquakes and Emigration.  What follows is a partial list of some of the more infamously devastating earthquakes that impacted Central and Southern Italy and Sicily.  For some 20th century survivors of the worst, these earthquakes proved strong motivation to emigrate and build new lives in a new land.

Goint to the land of opportunity, homeless Italian refugees on their way to America.

Stereograph c 1909: "Going to the land of opportunity, homeless Italian earthquake refugees on their way to America."  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Lot 11021

Historical Map, Earthquakes in Italy
from Robert Mallet's Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857:  The First Principles of Observational Seismology, courtesy of the University of Vienna, Institute for Evolution and Cognation Research
Historical Map of Italian Earthquakes, 1857 

2002, October 31 - November 1
Magnitude 5.7 (VIII-IX), damaged 50 villages in the Molise area. 
Killed 30 people, including 27 children and their schoolteacher in
San Giuliano di Puglia.  Studies indicated:

"In San Giuliano, the building types are significantly different in the medieval and the new parts. The older buildings are usually located on the rock formations, while the newer buildings are often on soft soil. The older buildings have stone bearing walls and small and far apart openings are often shown in the facades.  The first floor is often vaulted either in stones and mortar, or bricks of different types. Better construction practice and firm soil condition make the older buildings perform better than the newer buildings. Some collapses of the older buildings occurred in buildings that were abandoned without maintenance." 
(Norton, et al.)

1997, September 26 - October 3
Six earthquakes between 5 and 6 (VII-IX) magnitude struck the Umbria-Marche region of Italy. 
80,000 homes collapsed, 11 people died. 
Caused damage to the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi.

1980, November 23 "The Irpinia Earthquake"
Magnitude 6.9 (VIII), Irpinia (Avellino province), Campania and Basilicata--same areas affected by 1694 earthquake. 
3,000 people killed, 350,000 homeless. 
Broken gas lines fed fires throughout southern Italy, and broken waterlines and bad weather impaired firefighting efforts.  It was called the "greatest national disaster in Italy since World War II."

1930, July 23 "The Vulture Earthquake"
The dig among the ruins after the catastrophic Vulture earthquake of 22 Jul 1930
"The dig among the ruins after the catastrophic Vulture earthquake of 22 July 1930." German Federal Archive, July 1930, Permission Commons:Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10193

Magnitude 6.5.  Struck Irpinia, Puglia, Basilicata (some of the same areas were hard hit in 1456, 1694, 1702, 1732, 1910,  1962, 1980).
One of the most destructive in the recorded history of Italy, leaving 1,000 dead and 70,000 homeless.
Houses fallen from the catastrophic Vulture earthquake of 22 July 1930
"Houses fallen from the catastrophic Vulture earthquake of 22 July 1930."  German Federal Archive, July 1930, Permission Commons:Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10191

Children overwhelmed by the catastrophic Vulture earthquake of 22 July 1930
"Children overwhelmed by the catastrophic Vulture earthquake of 22 July 1930."  German Federal Archive, July 1930, Permission Commons:Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10182

The Army recovers the cadavers (1404 dead) after the catastrophic Vulture earthquake of 22 July 1930
"The Army recovers the cadavers (1404 dead) after the catastrophic Vulture earthquake of 22 July 1930."  German Federal Archive, July 1930, Permission Commons:Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10192

1915, January 13 "The Fucino Basin Earthquake"
Magnitude 6.9 to 7.5, said to have extended 300 miles across Italy.
Centered in Abruzzo and destroyed the town of Avezzano (L'Aquila).  Over 32,000 died. 
In the town of Pescina, 5,000 of 6,000 residents perished. 
Aftershocks and landslides made roads impassable to rescuers. 
Initially blamed on having drained the Lake Fucino.

Women and children before their doors in the once happy town of Avezzano, Italy, the centre of the ea
"Women and children before their doors in the once happy town of Avezzano, Italy, the centre of the earthquake of Jan. 13, which cost 30,000 lives and $60,000,000 in property. (Photo American Press Asn)"  Excerpt from New York Times, January 24, 1915.  Library of Congress, Serials and Government Publications Division, sgpnyt 19150124.

1908, December 28
Magnitude 7.5 (XI), Southern Calabria-Messina, Sicily. 
Estimates range from 70,000 to 120,000 dead from earthquake and tsunami. 
It is said that whole towns literally disappeared. 
Listed as one of the top 10 world disasters. But it marked "the beginning of the scientific study of the mechanics of earthquake-resisting construction... it began with the appointment of a remarkable committee, comprising nine practicing engineers of large experience and five eminent college professors of engineering."  (Reitherman)

Clearing away the ruins on route to Catania, Messina, italy c1909 July 12
Stereograph c 1909 July 12:  "Clearing away the ruins on route to Catania, Messina, Italy [after earthquake].  Library of Congress:  Stero foreign geog file-Italy-Sicily-Messina LC-USZ62-73718.

Earthquake of 1908, Messina, Italy.  A poor womans attempt to shelter her family.
Stereograph c 1909 July 22:  "Earthquake of 1908, Messina, Italy:  A poor woman's attempt to shelter her family."  Library of Congress:  Stero foreign geog file-Italy-Sicily-Messina LC-USZ62-73448.

Editor of Il Progresso and others collecting for Italian earthquake sufferers, East Side New York
Photograph c 1909:  "Chevalier C. Barsotti, editor of 'Il Progresso' and others collecting for Italian earthquake sufferers, East Side, New York."  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-DIG-ggbain-03083.

1905, September 28
Magnitude 7.9, obliterated 25 villages in Calabria.
Killed 2,500 and destroyed 40,000 homes. 
Recently believed to have been centered offshore.

1883, July 28
Magnitude 5.6 - 6.0 after the eruption of Volcano Eporneo (yes, Krakatoa exploded one month later). 
Devastated the resort town of Casamicciola, Ischia.
Killed 2,000 and destroyed 1,200 homes. 
The same town had been damaged in another earthquake just 2 years before (4 March 1881, 100 dead). 
It is said that King Umberto I rushed to the town and personally saved many victims at the risk of his own life, after countermanding orders of the Minister of Public Works to cover the ruins with quicklime.
The Earthquake in Italy, Waikato (NZ) Times 2 Aug 1883
National Library of New Zealand:  "The Earthquake in Italy."  Waikato Times, 2 August 1883, page 2.

1857, December 16 "The Great Neapolitan Earthquake"
Magnitude 6.9, Kingdom of Naples, Basilicata, Calabria, 10,000 died.

1783, February 5 "Il Flagello"
One of the world's most destructive earthquakes, devastating Messina and Calabria. 
Between 60,000 and 80,000 died, 180 villages destroyed from earthquake, tsunamis and landslides. 
It is told that one point, the earth opened to create a ravine 100 feet wide by one mile long, and new lakes formed in the chasms created throughout the region. 
The area experienced six earthquakes and 1,000 aftershocks in 2 months.  The devastation garnered world attention and became the first earthquake to be scientifically investigated.  It also led to legal codification of construction requirements for houses, specifically prescribing "case 'baraccate.'" (Mercalli)

1706 November 3, Abruzzi, 5,000 died

1693 November 1, 60,000 died in Catania Sicily and 93,000 in Naples

1654, South Latium and Abruzzi

1638, Calabria.  The village of Cittanovo was totally destroyed,  rebuilt as "Casalnuovo."  Casalnuovo was destroyed in the 1783 quake, but rebuilt within 15 years.

1626, Naples, 70,000 died

1466 January 14-15, Irpinia

1456 December, Naples and vicinity, 40,000 died

1349 9 September, Molise-Latium-Abruzzi;  destroyed the towns of Isernia, Venafro, Cassino, and caused significant damage to the Abbey at Montecassino.

847 June, Benevento, destroyed San Vincenzo a Volturno and Isernia

346,  Cited by Saint Jerome as occurring during the 281st Olympiad


   Felt by only a few people under very special circumstances.
II  Felt by a few people on upper floors of buildings and in position to observe swinging of suspended objects.
III Felt generally by people indoors but may not be any more intense than those due to a passing vehicle. 
IV Felt by almost all indoors and some outdoors.  Some objects displaced.  Sounds produced in structures.  Some vehicles perceptibly rocked. 
V  Felt by nearly everyone.  some objects rocked off tables and shelves.  Some objects overturned. 
VI Felt by all.  Even heavy objects displaced.  Some structural damage such as to plaster or wallboard. 
VII Some structures, such as brick chimneys, damaged.  Slight damage in other structures such as woodframe buildings. 
VIII Structural damage to even well-designed structures.  Frame structure walls pushed out of shape.  Masonry structures destroyed.  Heavy objects overturned.
IX considerable dames to structures, even partial collapse.  Some structures shifted from foundations.
X  Even woodframe structures destroyed.  Foundations damaged.  Rails bent.
XI Almost all masonry structures destroyed.  Woodframe structures generally damaged and some destroyed.  Metal structures such as bridges destroyed and rails severely bent.
XII Total damage. Waves observed on ground surface. Elevation or subsidence or land forms. Objects thrown upward into the air. 


"The 1930 Irpinia Earthquake: Collection and Analysis of Historical Waveforms."  NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS). not dated.

Cavazzani, Ada.  "Social and Institutional Impact of the 1980 Earthquake in Southern Italy: Problems and Prospects of Civil Protection."  International Strategy for Disaster Reduction

Galli, P., and F. Galdini, "Disruptive Earthquakes Revealed by Faulted Archaeological Relics in Samnium (Molise, southern Italy)."  Geophysical Research Letters 30 (1974): 70.1-70.4.

Mercalli, G.  Contributo allo studio del terremoto calabro-messinese del 18 XII 1908.  Napoli:  1909.

Michelini, A., A. Lomax, A. Nardi, A. Rossi, B. Palombo and A. Bono.  "A Modern Re-examination of the locations of the 1905 Calabria and the 1908 Messina Straits Earthquakes."  European Geosciences Union.  

Norton, Terri, Nikolos Politis, Jale Tezcan, Ho Jung Lee and Howard Matt.  "Tri-Center Review on Post Earthquake Reconnaissance, 2002 Molise Earthquake Field Mission 2003: Italy."  Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), University of Buffalo, Earthquake Engineering to Extreme Events.  

Pantosti, D., G. Valensise, F. Speranza, and M. Chiappini, "Searching for Blind, Silent Seismogenic Faults:  Lessons from the 2002 Molise (Southern Italy) Earthquake."  European Geophysical Society : 2003.  

Reitherman, Robert.  "Effects of Significant Earthquakes on the Development of Earthquake Engineering."  Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering (CUREE).

"Umberto I of Italy."  Economic Expert.com No date.

US Geological Survey (website features "last event," changes over time)

Watkins. Thayer.  "Earthquake Magnitude Measures."  San Jose State UniversityHttp://  no date.

Zebrowski, Ernest Jr. "A Brief History of Seismology."  Fathom no date.

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