Beno Gutenberg (1889-1960)

‘Feeling’ the Violent Earthquake in Abruzzo, Italy ?!?

2009-04-13:  Exactly a week ago … in the early hours of Monday morning (03:32 hrs local time), 6th April 2009, a violent earthquake hit the central Italian Region of Abruzzo.  The quake had a ‘magnitude’ of 6.3 on the Richter Scale … a scale developed by Charles Richter (1900-1985) during the last century, in collaboration with Beno Gutenberg (1889-1960).

 

The high numbers of fatalities and people injured continue, even at this time of writing … seven days later, to rise and rise.  Approaching 60,000 people have been left homeless.  It will take many, many years to restore buildings … and much longer than that to restore the delicate social fabric of local communities.

 

It is a remarkable joy to experience the culture, and live among the people of one such small community in the centre of Italy … Amandola (≈ 4,500 inhabitants), which is a typical hilltop town located approximately 70 Km north of L’Aquila (≈ 67,000 inhabitants), capital of the Abruzzo Region.

 

Colour photograph showing the view, taken just a few hours after the Abruzzo Earthquake, looking towards L'Aquila over the snow-capped Sibillini Mountains. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh from within the historical centre of Amandola, 70 Km away. 2009-04-06.

Colour photograph showing the view, taken just a few hours after the Abruzzo Earthquake, looking towards L’Aquila over the snow-capped Sibillini Mountains. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh from within the historical centre of Amandola, 70 Km away. 2009-04-06.

 
 

Earthquakes between 6.1 and 6.9 on the Richter Scale regularly cause damage in areas up to 100 Kilometres away from the ‘epicentre’ … that point on the earth’s surface located vertically above the place deep within the Earth where the quake originated.

 

To put local news reports into some context … accurate measurement of dramatically increased levels of natural radon activity in soils, allied with a good understanding of local geology and seismology, can be an important, although not 100% reliable, indicator of what is happening deep underground.  Unfortunately, and unlike in Ireland, radon protection of buildings is not taken seriously in Italy … so, not much attention would have been paid to what anybody said about radon activity in the soils around L’Aquila before the ‘big one’ hit !

 

Tremors from an earthquake, or trembling vibrations, can be felt strongly far away from an epicentre.  I know, because I was in Amandola last Monday morning.

 

To be involved in Earthquake Resisting Design is one thing … I am very comfortable with technical issues, facts, concepts, building products, etc.  To become intimate, however, with the ‘reality’ of a mother of an Earthquake is altogether different !

 

Jerked awake in those early hours … the building was rocking, not just swaying.  Before reaching full consciousness … too much had already happened.  If the building had collapsed, I would never have known what hit me.  But, it didn’t … and there was no internal damage or cracking.

 

I don’t know why … but, I went back to sleep again.

 

Just after 08.00 hrs (local time), phone texts began to arrive from Ireland … “was everybody safe ?”.  Something ‘big’ must have happened during the night.  I rushed to put on the television news … forget about SKY NEWS, CNN, BBC and that miserable, no-good, laughable excuse for an ‘impartial, balanced and fair’ news service FOX NEWS … the best coverage … and continuous coverage … was on the Italian TV Stations.

 

Tragic scenes … of historical buildings destroyed … expected, because they would not be of modern (reinforced concrete or steel) construction … and, far many more than should be the case, of modern buildings seriously damaged or collapsed like a plate of pancakes … somewhat expected, because of inadequate technical controls over building design and construction in many parts of the country.

 

[Similar scenes of modern, ‘tofu’ construction could be witnessed after the Major Earthquakes in Central China, beginning in May 2008.]

 

Later that morning, I inspected an historical building which I had recently restored … and where I had incorporated earthquake resisting features.  Relief, relief, relief … not a single crack.

 

Travelling back to Rome by car that afternoon, fleets of emergency response vehicles moved swiftly in the opposite direction towards the Earthquake Zone …

 

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END

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