Panic as three earthquakes strike Umbria

An earthquake measuring 4.1 on the Richter scale struck the central Italian region of Umbria on Monday night, and was followed by two smaller quakes this morning, creating panic among residents and closing schools in the hilltop town of Orvieto.

Panic as three earthquakes strike Umbria
Schools in the Umbrian town of Orvieto were closed on Tuesday after strong tremors were felt. Photo: Yaniv Ben-Arie

The first quake, which was also felt in Tuscany and Lazio, was registered by the National Institute of Geophysics just before 10.30pm.

The epicentre was in the town of Castel Giorgio at a depth of 14.8km.

Nobody was injured and there were no reports of damage to property.

But strong tremors could be felt in Perugia, Trasimeno and Orvieto, as well as the Tuscan provinces of Arezzo and Grosseto.

“Last night’s was strong and lasted maybe 15 seconds. It was scary, we just froze, especially with not really knowing what to do,” Linda Martinez, a mother of three who lives in the hilltop town of Orvieto, told The Local.

A 3.4 magnitude quake hit the Lake Bolsena area at 9.22am on Tuesday, and was followed a few minutes later by one measuring 2.6, according to data the global earthquake monitoring site, EMSC/CSEM.

Both were also felt in Orvieto, prompting authorities to send schoolchildren home. Schools will remain closed on Wednesday.

“This morning it was much milder,” Martinez added.

Ij Honkanen, who also lives in Orvieto, said his couch started to shake as he was chatting with a friend on Skype.

“I immediately left the apartment,” he told The Local.

“People were panicking but I’ve felt quite a few since I’ve lived here, so wasn’t so worried. I spoke to a friend in Castel Giorgio, who said her building shook and some paintings fell off the wall, but other than that, there was no damage reported.”

The earthquakes come a month after a 3.6 magnitude quake struck Florence province.

Meanwhile, more than 50 small quakes within the space of five days were felt in the central Molise region in January.

Italy has two fault lines, making it one of the most tectonically active countries in Europe.

May 6th also marked the 40th anniversary since an earthquake hit Italy’s northeastern Friuli-Venezia region, killing 989 people and injuring 2,800.

Read more: Italy’s deadliest earthquakes over the last 100 years

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Italian right hopes to conquer left stronghold in key vote

Italians head to the polls in Umbria Sunday for a regional election heralded as a key test for both the young left-leaning government and a zealous new right-wing opposition alliance.

Italian right hopes to conquer left stronghold in key vote
A view of the Umbria countryside. Photo: AFP

Firebrand Matteo Salvini is determined to wrest the hilly region prized for its truffles and prosciutto from the left, which has governed it for 70 years, by capitalising on a health scandal and biting economic crisis.

“Never before has Umbria, with its 884,000 inhabitants, been such an important thermometer for national politics,” the Sole 24 Ore daily said in the run-up to the vote.

Salvini collapsed Italy's previous populist government two months ago in a failed bid to spark a parliamentary election the then-deputy prime minister hoped to win.

He was thwarted by an unexpected tie-up between former foes, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which joined forces to stop him.

Salvini has since channelled all his energies into a return to power, allying his anti-immigrant League with the smaller, far-right Brothers of Italy, and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia.

The M5S and PD believe running together locally is the only way to stop the right from taking not only Umbria but also key regions such as the left-wing heartland of Emilia-Romagna, which votes early next year.

“If the first experiment of the PD-M5S alliance ends with a League triumph… someone at Palazzo Chigi (the prime minister's office) should ask themselves why,” Salvini said at a campaign rally this week.

Should the right win, the 46-year old could “attempt the ascent to Palazzo Chigi, winning one region after another”, the Sole 24 Ore said.

“A defeat, however, would sting: it would mean he had made the wrong moves from August 8th (when he toppled the government) onwards.”

The latest polls put the right's candidate, Donatella Tesei, ahead with between 48 and 52 percent, compared to between 41 and 45 percent for PD-M5S candidate Vincenzo Bianconi.

“Many consider Umbria to be as fundamental as Ohio is for the US presidential elections: here we'll see what kind of future the 'Yellow and Red' government has,” the Corriere della Sera newspaper said, referring to the M5S and PD colours.

But while the right “marches as one”, the government coalition “bickers, every day, about everything… which makes electoral campaigning difficult”, it said.

Salvini hopes to tap into disillusionment over an economic crisis worsened by a series of earthquakes that struck central Italy in 2016, killing hundreds of people and devastating towns and villages.

With over 90 percent of agricultural businesses in Umbria run by families, the widespread loss of livestock and damage to crops of saffron and lentils dealt a vicious blow, and recovery has been slow.

The region was already suffering from the economic crisis, which hit historic companies like chocolate maker Perugina hard.

Umbria's biggest factory, the Terni steelworks, has struggled for years and periodically risks closure.

The left is also hampered at the ballot box by a health sector scandal: Umbria governor and PD member Catiuscia Marini quit in April following a probe into competitive exams for the hiring of hospital staff.

Political watchers have warned a serious defeat of the M5S could mean curtains for its leader Luigi Di Maio, with potentially serious repercussions for the fragile governing coalition.

It could also spell bad news for PD leader Nicola Zingaretti, who was initially set against the M5S tie-up but has since staked his political future on its success.

The left-wing Repubblica daily said Di Maio and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte were losing sleep over the vote — though the latter has laughed that off, insisting “Umbria is not a test for the government.”

Italian pollster Renato Mannheimer agreed, saying Friday that “the real test will be in Emilia-Romagna in January.”

READ ALSO: Salvini seeks to unite Italian right with Rome rally