Days after the Virgin Islands’ (UK) annual National Simulation Exercise tested the Territory’s preparedness and notification systems for earthquakes and tsunamis, a major earthquake hit the Italian Region.  

Occurring early this morning while most residents were still asleep, its epicenter was located at 70 miles northeast of Rome near the medieval city of L'Aquila. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, this shallow earthquake measured 6.3 on the Richter scale.  The death toll is now at 92 and climbing; 1500 persons are reported injured and some 100,000 people were left homeless.  

Reports from Italy indicated that aftershocks left slabs of walls, twisted steel supports, and furniture and wire fences strewn across the streets.  One four story apartment block was reduced to the height of an adult. As is typical in the aftermath of earthquakes, response efforts are being conducted by hand and with rescue dogs to reach trapped victims within fallen buildings. Rescuers are demanding quiet, so that signs of life may be heard among the rubble. The main hospital had to be evacuated because of the risk of collapse, resulting in treatment being administered in the open air. The limited resources of the hospital are facing challenges in being able to treat the many bloodied victims awaiting care. Schools and dormitories have been impacted, and many students are believed to still be trapped. The reports from the impacted zone paint pictures of dusty streets and residents in embrace, praying and waiting for signs of hope that their loved ones are safe.    

The Director of Disaster Management, Ms. Sharleen DaBreo, in a statement, reminded the public that “the Territory lies in a seismically active zone, and the threat of a large scale quake is very real for our islands.  While we cannot predict when and where the next major earthquake will occur, we can design our homes and construct our schools and business in such a manner that we can reduce our risk to this hazard.  It is also important that disaster plans, both for homes and businesses, are developed and tested regularly so that persons are aware of what they should do in the event of this type of hazard impact”.  The recently concluded simulation exercise provided an opportunity for the both the private and public sector agencies to test their plans and procedures.  Many agencies did not take the opportunity to participate, and felt that the exercise was not of importance to their business.  The event in Italy demonstrates the need for readiness in areas that have the potential to generate large and destructive earthquakes and tsunamis.  Reports coming out of Italy stated that a local Italian professor had predicted that a major quake would occur around L’Aquila, based on concentrations of radon gas around the seismically active areas.  He was reported to Police for “spreading alarm” and forced to remove his findings from the internet.

Ms. DaBreo also stated that “earthquakes generally last 30 – 60 seconds long and during that period, persons are encouraged to take cover under a sturdy desk, protect their heads or stand in a door-less doorway”.  DaBreo went on to stress that residents should tune in immediately to local radio and television stations when the National Siren System is activated. However, she pointed out that once a major earthquake is felt, persons should not wait for the notification system, they should take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and be aware of the potential for a tsunami to impact the local area soon after.  In the event that a tsunami warning is issued, persons should immediately move to higher ground. Additional information on earthquake/tsunami safety can be found on the DDM’s website

The last major quake to hit central Italy was a 5.4 magnitude that struck the south-central Molise region on Oct. 31, 2002, killing 28 people, including 27 children who died when their school collapsed. This morning’s quake was the latest and strongest in a series to hit the L'Aquila area on Sunday and Monday.