Most people were sleeping when the tremors began at 05:21. The historic city of Messina shook violently for a full 30 seconds. Across the straits from Sicily, the Italian town of Reggio di Calabria imploded into rubble and dust in the same half minute. Buried in choking lumps of ragged stone and plaster, and tossed from their beds into a cold, wet and violent winter night, bewildered citizens had barely found their voices to scream in pain and for help when the tsunami followed. A series of three waves, rearing to a height of 6 m (20 ft), crashed simultaneously through Messina and Reggio, facing each other across the straits, and thundered along both coastlines wreaking havoc on villages and people. At Giampileri Marina the waves peaked at 11.8 m (39 ft). Ninety per cent of Messina was obliterated and 100,000 people died immediately. It is difficult to imagine the devastation.
The first shock measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. Hundreds of smaller aftershocks created a two-day nightmare. The dead stuck out from piles of rubble, smashed limbs easy prey for scavenging animals. With no communications and no civil structure left, help came slowly. The government in Rome took five days to organize fitting equipment, by which time the fleets of half a dozen Mediterranean navies were working as one to ferry the injured to hospitals in Naples, Rome and Malta. Their crews worked desperately, but rubble was 5m (16 ft) deep in Messina’s center. The last survivors, two starving children, were dug out after 18 days. It was the same in Reggio, and up and down the coastline. Sleep had concentrated the population in the most vulnerable circumstances. They died together – in full barracks, crowded hospitals and en familie in bursting tenements. Italian King Vittorio Emanuele came to look at them.
When was The Deadliest Earthquake in European History: December 28 1908
Where was The Deadliest Earthquake in European History: Messina, Sicily, and Reggio di Calabria, Italy
What was The Deadliest Earthquake in European History death toll: Estimates of the dead go well beyond 200,000. In Messina, 75,000 (half the population) certainly died and 25,000 (nearly two thirds) died In Reggio. The quake’s epicenter was just offshore from Messina, and buildings collapsed over 4,300 sq. km (1,660 sq. mi). Messina was rebuilt with wide streets and low buildings for future safety.
You should know: Sicily and Calabria have so many earth tremors they are known as la terra ballerina (the dancing land).