news15 gennaio 2020

January 15, 1968, the Belice earthquake

A historical photograph of the difficult emergency that struck western Sicily

On the night between January 14 and 15, 1968, western Sicily was hit by a series of shocks. During the day no collapses occurred, but a large part of the population, alarmed, decided to spend the night in the open air, in the square of their village or in the open countryside.

In the middle of the night, a very violent tremor struck the Belice Valley, causing serious damage to Gibellina, Salaparuta, S. Ninfa, Montevago, Partanna, Poggioreale and Santa Margherita Belice, included in the territories of the provinces of Trapani and Agrigento which, at the time of the earthquake, were not categorized as seismic areas. 

Due to the earthquake, 231 people died and over six hundred were injured. 90% of the rural building heritage suffered irreparable damage, with very serious repercussions on the almost exclusively agricultural economy of the area. 

Thus began a long seismic period that affected Western Sicily until February 1969, and whose strongest tremors were recorded between 14 and 25 January 1968.

Indeed, on January 25 a seismic event with effects equal to the 8th degree of the Mercalli scale overwhelmed a team of rescuers at work among the rubble, causing the death of a firefighter. The quake caused damage to Sciacca and Palermo, where people went back to sleep outdoors.

The damage was also influenced by the building's construction characteristics as well as the fact that the buildings were old. The offices of the Civil Engineers and the Public Works Department of Sicily, directly subordinate to the Ministry of Public Works, provided for the verification of damage and the planning of reconstruction work.

The main problem of emergency management consisted in the lack of coordination of the forces in the field. Two years later, in 1970, Law no. 996 of 8 December outlines for the first time an overall framework of civil protection interventions: "Regulations on relief and assistance to populations affected by disasters - Civil Protection".

This is how the Italian law implements the concept of civil protection and specifies for the first time the concept of natural disaster and catastrophe. The concept of civil protection, intended as the predisposition and coordination of interventions, is thus affirmed and the fundamental tasks entrusted to the various civil protection bodies are identified for a rational organization of interventions and for the quickest and most effective delivery of relief to the affected populations.

It was only in 1992, with the birth of the National Service of Civil Protection, that the vision of a coordinated system of competences was realized, involving State administrations, Regions, Provinces, Municipalities and other local authorities, public bodies, the scientific community, the voluntary sector, professional orders and colleges and any other institution, including private ones,