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  • What Is Going On with the Italy Earthquakes?

    Discover why Italians keep confronting seismic activity that has ravaged cities and put lives in grave danger
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Rigopiano Hotel before and after the avalanche 2017
    Rigopiano Hotel before
    and after the avalanche
    Italy is shaking with fear, literally and figuratively, and it has a point. Another earthquake – this time a 5.3 magnitude – hit the center of the country Jan. 18, 2017. The earthquake was felt strongly in Rome, the nation's capital, and it required the closing of schools and subways as a precaution. CNN initially reported there were up to nine aftershocks. Worst of all, the tremors triggered a massive avalanche, and vacationers and staff at the Hotel Rigopiano resort in the Abruzzo region were trapped under the snow and rubble.

    The good news is that some of those in the resort were rescued alive, even after being trapped for more than 48 hours. The bad news is that bodies were also recovered. As I write this, the rescue efforts continue. #PrayforItaly has returned to Facebook and Twitter feeds in the wake of the tragedy.

    This comes after a year in which the country was hit by as many as 250 medium-strength or stronger quakes, according to USA Today. In fact, USA Today characterizes 2016 as "the country's most significant seismic activity in a generation."

    Most notably, the world watched in despair in August 2016 as people in Amatrice and other nearby towns in Italy spent days trying to dig out their neighbors from under their homes and rubble, the result of a 6.2 magnitude earthquake. The town was leveled, nearly 300 people were killed, and survivors are still feeling the ramifications of the disaster. (You can read a thorough account of what happened during the days after the earthquake on the Italian Mamma site.) In October 2016, the same parts of central Italy experienced a 6.6 magnitude earthquake, which was the strongest to hit the country in 36 years, according to USA Today.

    In the aftermath of these latest earthquakes, which were more magnified not least of all because of the heavy snow hitting the area, the mayor of Amatrice spoke out. "I don't know if we did something bad. That's what I have been asking since yesterday," Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told the AFP news agency, according to CNN. "We have got up to two meters of snow and now another earthquake. What can I say? I have no words."

    Why all these earthquakes? For starters, geography plays a major role. Italy sits on top of the point where the African and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, which makes it the most vulnerable country in the Mediterranean for earthquakes, according to CNN. Some seismologists have been suggesting that one earthquake begets another because the first one may have weakened the fault lines. But the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) says the science and reasons for seismic activity are greater than merely the tectonic plates convergence.

    "The region's tectonic activity cannot be simply explained by the collision of the Eurasia and Africa plates. It has been suggested that deeper lithospheric processes are controlling some of the deformation observed at the surface," according to the USGS as reported by the U.K.'s Independent. "The eastern Alps are particularly seismically active, with many shallow earthquakes occurring on north-dipping thrust faults, such as the M6.5 Friuli earthquake in northeast Italy on 6 May 1976 that killed approximately 1,000 people."

    While the deadliest earthquake to hit Italy happened in 1908 and killed about 72,000 people, the Italians are still worried about what is happening today. Still, in the present, they are focusing on who can be saved. Giorgia Galassi, 22, is one of nine people rescued from the resort buried in the avalanche. After being under the rubble for about 58 hours, Galassi heard the voices of rescuers and responded, according to the BBC. "I am Giorgia, and I am alive," she reported saying. "It was the most beautiful thing I've ever said."

    Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 1/23/17


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