Earthquakes in the UK are generally metaphorical: in Italy they are REAL. We live in a moderately seismic area but in the eight years that I have been living here it is only this year that this fact has been reinforced. Alone in 2013 we have had over 400 seismic shocks.
Fortunately, the great majority of these natural (or unnatural from brits unused to earthquakes in their geologically old country) phenomena are slight tremors less than 4 on the Richter scale. But in January a 6.5 shock was recorded here. Last Saturday a 5.4 shock was logged. And yesterday, just as we were singing at Ghivizzano Castello for a wedding, a 4.6 shock occurred shortly after the happy couple had exchanged rings.
The full facts as I read them in “Il Tirreno” newspaper this morning are these and they are even more frightening (24 hour clock used, as is common in Italy):
Friday 21st June 82 tremors. Main ones at 12.33 (Richter 5.2), 13.19 (3.8) 14.12 (4), 14.19 (3.8) 16.24 (4).
Saturday 22nd 25 tremors. Main one at 3.56 (3.4)
Sunday 23rd (when the wedding we sang at was) 15 tremors. Main ones at 15.13 (3.8), 17.01 (4.4)
I thought the floor boards were a bit more shaky and creaky than normal under me then, leaning over the organ loft, I saw a congregation just short of panic quickly start rushing to get out of the beautiful baroque church of San Pietro and Paolo. The tremor lasted a full 20 seconds and (this is what I was told) the duration of an earthquake is usually more damaging that its actual intensity. The shock was of horizontal rather than vertical tendency. Our new priest calmed down everyone with some force, no-one decided to stay outside (this caused some criticism later as a local bar owner said he would have evacuated the entire building and postponed the ceremony – was the priest brave or irresponsible? I think brave: he calmed the celebrants and saved the wedding!) and the ceremony was brought to a conclusion without further sub-terrestrial intervention. It was certainly a marriage ceremony that no-one will forget!
Below a pic of the wedding ceremony before it all happened (exchange of rings, earthquake etc.)
What can one do about earthquakes? Not very much, it seems. They come absolutely without warnings although, now that this year has been so earth-shaking in our part of the world, we are all slightly on edge about the possibility that another one will hit us today and have already taken precautions (e.g. water, rations, first aid kit, good book, torch and all the rest of the caboodle).
No one was physically injured in our case, although we were all in varying degrees, shaken in both senses of the word! Of structural damage to the church some bits of plaster fell from the roof frescoes but fortunately these were just from the frames to the lovely ceiling paintings which seemed undamaged. The following shows my video of the pendants of one of the candelabras behind me still shaking a full five minutes after the main tremor had hit us! Above us, an iron tie holding a wide nave arch was oscillating with fury but at that stage I was less interested in filming it than in thinking about getting out!
Other areas in the Garfagnana and the Lunigiana, however, have not had such lucky escapes. There have been some human injuries, big cracks have appeared in some fine churches and bell-tower (they seem to be the most prone) and I’m sure this morning several people are filling in the several cracks that have appeared in their domestic plasterwork, as cold comfort to themselves.
Several communities are sleeping away from their homes on camp beds placed in seismically safe buildings (like the new community college at Gallicano where I taught a couple of years back) and others have gone away to stay with relatives in safer areas. It is all slightly disconcerting, especially as we are due for a big one soon – the last one was in 1920 with the epicentre in the Villa Collemandina area and big ones (like the one in California) are supposed to come round every hundred years or so.
Meanwhile, our region is complaining to Rome about lack of funds to cope with all this and university exams have been postponed (schools are already closed for the summer break in Italy since the start of June).
So Italy continues to suffer, as it did last year in the Modenese area and, before that, in Aquila. As if economic hardship wasn’t enough to cope with!
Meanwhile, that lovely town of Monzone where we began our walk the other day, described in that recent blog “Magical Mulattiera”, has most of its inhabitants living in tent city….