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EARTHQUAKES

MAP: Which parts of Italy have the highest risk of earthquakes?

Italy is known for being prone to earthquakes, but some areas of the country are at higher risk than others.

Church damaged by 2016 Ussita earthquake.
Italy was hit by as many as seven earthquakes with a magnitude of 6.5 or more in the 20th century alone. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP

A 5.7-magnitude earthquake rocked Italy’s central Marche region on Wednesday and, though no serious damage to people or buildings was reported, it reminded residents that quakes are an inescapable part of life in Italy. 

In fact Italy has been hit by more than 30,000 medium to strong earthquakes (i.e. any event greater than grade IV on the Mercalli scale) over the past 2,500 years, and as many as seven earthquakes with a magnitude of 6.5 or more in the 20th century alone. 

READ ALSO: Italy’s Marche region rocked by strong 5.7 earthquake off Adriatic coast

Due to its peculiar geological position – the boot lies right where the African tectonic plate converges with the Eurasian plate – Italy’s territory is “seismic in its entirety”, according to the country’s Civil Protection Department.

But some parts of the country are at a greater risk of experiencing earthquakes than others.

Italy’s National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) estimates that the “strongest earthquakes […] are expected in Calabria, south-eastern Sicily, Friuli Venezia-Giulia and along the central and southern Apennines”. 

However there’s also significant risk in Puglia’s Salento peninsula, the Tyrrhenian coast of both Tuscany and Lazio, the Po Plain and the Alpine range, the institute states.

As for low-risk areas, Sardinia is the Italian region with the lowest seismic hazard.

Seismic risk across Italy

Variations in seismic risk levels across Italy. Photo by National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV).

The map above shows the variation in risk levels across Italy. Lower-risk areas are shown in light blue, green or yellow. Areas with a greater seismic hazard are orange, red or purple.

‘Seismic hazard’ (pericolosità sismica) is the main parameter used by authorities to gauge the risk of earthquakes in a certain area. This looks at the frequency and power of the quakes that hit a specific area over a set period of time. 

Essentially, the more frequent and the more powerful seismic events are, the greater the seismic hazard in the area.

It’s worth noting that the term ‘seismic hazard’ is not equivalent to what is commonly referred to as ‘seismic risk’, which is an overall assessment that takes several parameters into account, only one of them being seismic hazard (more on this below).

Other parameters

While seismic hazard is the most commonly used parameter when it comes to assessing the risk of earthquakes in a certain area, authorities take other factors into account. 

Italy’s Civil Protection Department also looks at an area’s ‘vulnerability’ (vulnerabilità), i.e. the propensity of the area’s buildings to be severely damaged by a quake, and ‘exposure’ (esposizione), meaning the total number of people and assets that would be endangered by a seismic event in the area in question.

A statue destroyed by an earthquake in Pennisi, Sicily.

Italy has high seismic vulnerability, meaning that its infrastructure is likely to be severely damaged in the event of an earthquake. Photo by Giovanni ISOLINO / AFP

According to the Civil Protection Department, Italy doesn’t just have a “medium-high seismic hazard” but also “high vulnerability” due to the fragility of its infrastructure and “very high exposure” on account of the country’s population density and the many historical and artistic assets found across the territory.   

When combined, these three factors (seismic hazard, vulnerability, exposure) allow for a comprehensive assessment of a country’s overall seismic risk.

In Italy’s case, the peninsula has “a high seismic risk”, with quakes likely to result in loss of human life and significant damage to local infrastructure. 

Without accounting for damage to historical and artistic assets, the economic cost of damage caused by seismic events over the last 40 years in Italy is estimated at around 80 billion euros.

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EARTHQUAKES

Italy’s Marche region rocked by strong 5.7 earthquake off Adriatic coast

No serious damage was reported but residents had a "big scare" on Wednesday morning as a 5.7-magnitude earthquake rocked Italy's central Marche region.

Italy's Marche region rocked by strong 5.7 earthquake off Adriatic coast

A 5.7 magnitude earthquake shook Italy’s Adriatic coast just after 7am local time and was felt most strongly in the Marche region, where panicked residents ran out into the streets.

The quake, which struck off shore at a depth of eight kilometres and was felt in the capital Rome, was followed minutes later by a 4.0 tremor in the same region, the National Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology said.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s office said she was in “constant contact” with the civil protection department and the Marche region’s chief.

“We have not so far received any rescue requests nor reports of damage,” the Italian fire and rescue service said on its official Twitter account.

Schools were nevertheless closed across the region while checks could be carried out, and trains were cancelled, regional authorities said.

“The streetlights of public lighting swayed like twigs, everything was shaking strongly, it was a terrible sensation and people poured into the streets”, a resident of the Marche town of Fano told news agency Ansa.

While no major damage to buildings was observed, a number of residents have reported the appearance of cracks in the walls of their homes.

Around ten people were admitted to Ancona hospital’s emergency room suffering from shock or heightened heart rate as a result of the incident.

“It was a big scare because the shock was strong and so we fear the consequences,” Matteo Ricci, the mayor of Pesaro in Marche, told Ansa.

A deadly earthquake in 2016 hit areas straddling the Marche, Umbria and Lazio regions, killing 297 people and injuring hundreds more.

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