At least 27 people have been killed by an earthquake that struck the Italian Mediaeval city of L'Aquila about 70 miles from Rome in the early hours of this morning. A hundred thousand people have fled their homes.
Italy is often prey to earthquakes because of two fault lines – one that runs the length of the country from north to south, and another that crosses the centre from west to east. In 2002, 25 people were killed in the southern town of San Giuliano di Puglia, while five years earlier, a quake demolished part of the famous church of St Francis at Assisi, with its frescos by Giotto. The death toll was ten.
Italy’s deadliest earthquake in recent years came in 1980, when 2,700 people were killed at Eboli about 50 miles south of Naples, while the deadliest the country has ever seen had its epicentre under the Straits of Messina that divide Sicily from the Italian mainland.
It struck on the morning of December 28, 1908, and flattened much of Messina on Sicily and Reggio di Calabria on the mainland. Some estimates put the number of people killed at more than 150,000, and martial law had to be imposed when gangs of looters descended on the stricken areas. Ships in the harbour at Messina were turned into floating hospitals for the injured, and Russian sailors in particular won praise for their courage in helping to free people trapped under the rubble.