Why Italy faces constant threat of earthquakes

Italy has a long history of being hit by powerful, destructive earthquakes.

The country is one of the most seismically active in Europe, sitting at the meeting point of two tectonic plates.

The Alps in the north have been formed by the African tectonic plate pushing into the Eurasian plate.

That process is ongoing and the plates continue to move at around 3cm a year.

These geological faults, or weaknesses in the Earth’s crust, extend all the way up the spine of Italy.

They are slowly pulling the crust – and the Apennine mountain range – apart.

This can have devastating consequences for communities, as seen in the latest quake to hit central Italy on Sunday, and some quakes have caused huge loss of life.

Italy’s most destructive earthquakes include:

:: A 6.2 magnitude tremor, which killed nearly 300 people on 4 August 2016, virtually destroyed the town of Amatrice, north of L’Aquila.

:: On 6 April 2009 a 6.3 magnitude tremor hit near L’Aquila, causing around 300 deaths.


Large parts of the historic city of L'Aquila were devastated in 2009
Image Caption:
Large parts of the historic city of L’Aquila were devastated in 2009

::  The Campania region, around Naples, was hit by 6.9 magnitude quake on 23 November 1980 which caused around 3,000 deaths.

:: 400 people died in Sicily on 15 January 1968 when a 5.5 magnitude tremor struck.

:: Around 30,000 people died when L’Aquila was struck by 6.7 magnitude quake on 13 January 1915.

:: Between 75,000 and 200,000 people were killed when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the Strait of Messina, between mainland Italy and Sicily, on 28 December 1908.  The powerful quake triggered a tsunami which caused much of the damage.


The 1908 Messina earthquake and tsunami is one of the deadliest natural disasters in Europe's recorded history.
Image Caption:
The 1908 Messina quake and tsunami is one of the deadliest natural disasters in Europe’s recorded history.

As it sits on geological fault lines, it is not just earthquakes which Italy has to worry about.  

It is also home to two of Europe’s most active volcanoes.

Mount Vesuvius is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in world.


The city of Naples sits in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius
Image Caption:
The city of Naples sits in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius

Up to three million people live in the danger zone around Naples and Italian authorities have recently updated an evacuation plan should there be a major eruption again.

Its most famous eruption occurred in AD79 when the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried.

Mount Etna, on Sicily, has also erupted frequently in recent years.


Reuters
Video:
July 2016: Etna erupts in fiery glory

The Foreign Office warns visitors to Italy about the risks of earthquakes and volcanoes.

It says: “Many parts of Italy lie on a major seismic fault line. Minor tremors and earthquakes are almost a daily occurrence.”  

“Mount Etna has been erupting with increasing frequency sending plumes of ash into the air. Monitor local media and contact your airline if you are concerned.”

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