Italy shaken by ‘apocalyptic’ earthquake

Quaking: Italy has promised to build more houses for those left homeless. © PA

This summer, families in central Italy woke to find the ground shaking beneath them. Many homes were destroyed. Earthquakes are fairly common in the area, so why can’t we see them coming?

What’s happening

Early one morning in central Italy, the ground began to shake. The earthquake lasted just 20 seconds, but it brought buildings crumbling to the ground. Around 290 people were killed and 2,500 were made homeless. ‘Half the town is gone,’ mourned the mayor of a historic town called Amatrice in the hours after the disaster.

Find out more

This was not Italy’s first earthquake — thousands of lives and buildings have been lost over the centuries. The Colosseum is one of Rome’s most famous landmarks, but it stands partly in ruins because of earthquakes which happened hundreds of years ago.

This is because Italy sits between two major tectonic plates. These are large sections of the Earth’s crust which fit together like a jigsaw. When the edges move, it causes tremors on the surface. Many are harmless. But sometimes, like in Amatrice, they can be devastating.

Ever since ancient times, people have tried to predict when they will strike. Scientists have studied everything from radiation levels to strange behaviour in pets. But despite their efforts, they still cannot find an answer.

Some say…

We must not give up hope, say scientists. Testing ideas, failing, and trying something new is the history of almost all scientific progress. It can feel frustrating when the answer eludes us, but we are getting closer all the time. One of these days, we will crack it — and then thousands of lives will be saved.

Others think…

Maybe the reason we cannot find reliable signs of earthquakes is that such signs simply do not exist. Instead, scientists should look for ways of coping when quakes do strike, particularly in vulnerable areas. Many lives have been saved by new quake-proof buildings in Japan, for example. We should use that knowledge to reinforce older buildings too.

You Decide

  1. Should science focus on predicting quakes or coping with the effects?

Activities

  1. Write a letter to the mayor of Amatrice. How would you comfort him at this difficult time?

Some People Say...

“There is no such thing as a failed experiment.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

Amatrice
Pronounced ‘ama-tree-chay’, the town has been around for at least 1,000 years.
Colosseum
An amphitheatre built during the Roman Empire.
Tectonic plates
The Earth’s crust (see below) is not one complete layer. It is divided into seven large pieces, called plates, and several smaller pieces.
Crust
The Earth is made of several layers: the core (inner and outer), the hot mantle in the middle, and the rocky crust which covers its surface.
Eludes
Escapes.
Vulnerable
Easily harmed.

Subjects

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