February 5 1783 Earthquake Devastates Southern Italy

On February 5th 1783, a massive earthquake in southern Italy destroyed villages and triggered a tsunami and landslides. In all, about 34,000 people lost their lives and 180 communities were destroyed.

The estimated 7.5 to 8.0-magnitude quake struck at about 1 pm in the Calabria province. Within a minute, over 100 villages were leveled throughout the region. In several cases, communities were literally wiped away with no survivors or standing structures remaining. The quake also produced an uncommon number of fractures in the Earth’s surface. In one case, a mile-long ravine, nearly 100 feet wide, was instantly created. According to one report, more than 100 goats fell into another crack in the earth. A witness also claimed that “two mountains on the opposite sides of a valley walked from their original position until they met in the middle of the plain, and there joining together, they intercepted the course of a river.” New lakes appeared across the region.

Several hundred people from the town of Scilla survived the initial quake and fled to a nearby beach for shelter. Many then drowned when a second tremor at midnight prompted a tsunami. The tsunami also killed thousands of people in Reggio di Calabria and Messina, towns that sit opposite each other across the strait between Calabria and Sicily. The misery continued across southern Italy and Sicily for the remainder of the winter. With food supplies disrupted, the survivors were at risk of starvation. In addition, another quake on March 28 killed another 2,000 people. Including aftershocks and the indirect effects of the earthquakes, a total of 80,000 people died in the earthquake of 1783.

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