Christmas Earthquake

Waking up and getting up early is something I usually enjoy, but on a cool December morning, 5:20 is a bit too early. Even according to the rigid regiment of my alarm clock, I would had another 70 minutes of sleep; not counting the encore I can wrest from it on good days.

But on 23 December 2013 I am woken up at that time in a manner I have never been woken up before. It feels like someone is easily pushing my heavy bed from left to right and back again several times. From one second to the next, I am awake and notice that not only the bed is moving. The bedroom, actually the whole house, is being pushed back and forth in a steady rhythm, accompanied by a slight rumbling. After a few seconds it’s over. Complete silence. Although I have never had any experience with it, there can be no doubt: this was an earthquake.

Immediately I get up and go out onto the rear balcony, expecting to see the village ablaze and the streets filled with people in panic. Nothing. It’s already light, but completely quiet. No sound from the rooster who sometimes accompanies my alarm clock. No whining cat. I don’t hear a single car alarm, although they usually even go off when a squirrel scurries across the car or an overripe orange falls from the tree.

I am getting uncertain whether I may have classified the events as an earthquake too prematurely. Quickly I go through the other possible explanations for a strongly vibrating house, but I have to discard them one by one: an explosion would have been much louder and wouldn’t lead to this rhythmic back-and-forth shaking. The same if I was under attack with heavy weapons. Due to how the house is situated towards the street, it is unlikely that it was hit by a truck. With a tank, I would hear the engine, with a helicopter I would hear the rotor blades. Without any prior warning, it is unlikely that the bailiff comes early in the morning on the day before Christmas to wrap up the house and carry it away. No, an earthquake remains the only possibly explanation.

To obtain verification of my amateurish analysis, I switch on Rai News 24, the Italian news channel. They are reviewing the newspapers of the day, then there is a report on Angela Merkel’s opinion about something related to Italy. The news in Italy carry comments by Angela Merkel on almost so many things that one could come to the belief she was the President of Europe. Then of course football. The news channel still has no mentioning of the earthquake in the own country even 15 minutes after it happened.

Thus I look up the Italian word for earthquake: terremoto, and search for it on Twitter. Indeed, there are a few messages about an earthquake, with the epicentre alternatively in Reggio Calabria (the tip of the Italian boot), in Messina (the city in Sicily closest to mainland Italy) or in the strait between the two. I live about 20 km west of Messina. The earthquake registered with 4 points on the Richter scale.

With this confirmation I go out onto the road to look for visible damage to the house and the environment. Except for a broken flower pot in the middle of the road, I cannot detect any signs of a natural catastrophe. And something like this woke me up.

During the day, anyone whom I meet in this Sicilian village talks about Christmas first and about the earthquake second. Even then it’s not about today’s earthquake, but about the one from 1908. Back then there was a much stronger earthquake in Messina (7.2 on the Richter scale) which caused a tsunami that destroyed almost the whole city and killed about 70,000 people in Messina alone. It was one of the most devastating natural catastrophes in the history of Europe. Eerily, that earthquake also happened around Christmas, on 28 December 1908. Even more eerily, it took place at exactly the same time of the day, at 5:20 in the morning. Whenever I use the word coincidenza in this context today, I am being stared at incredulously as if I represent a new and totally absurd theory.

In the evening, the earthquake has moved down on the websites even of Sicilian newspapers: the top story now is about a cold front to reach northern Italy in the coming days. The prospect of snow over Christmas is already more newsworthy than an earthquake.

Not quite as bad as in 1908.

(Von diesem Artikel gibt es auch eine deutsche Version.)

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
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10 Responses to Christmas Earthquake

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  2. Alessio Salzano says:

    There’s a legend in Sicily about a boy whose name was Nicola and who was an excellent swimmer, so that everybody called him “Colapesce” (Nicola the fish).
    The legend says he was so good at swimming that his fame arrived to the king Frederick II, who decided to challenge the boy by throwing into the sea a golden cup and asking him to bring it back, which Colapesce did easily and quickly. So the king threw his crown further and Colapesce, this time after some minutes, got it back again. As a final challenge, the king threw his ring into the sea, even further than before, but this time Colapesce dived and never came up. According to the legend, the reason Colapesce never re-emerged is that while looking for the king’s ring, he discovered that Sicily lies on three pillars, one for each cape (capo Peloro in Messina, capo Passero in Syracuse, capo Lilibeo in Trapani), and that the one under Messina was starting to crack, so he decided to remain under the water to support the pillar and avoid that Messina sinked. At times, he moves a bit for some reasons (I guess holding a column underwater for centuries is someway tyring, so he may want to change position or scratch an itch…) and when he does so, we experience a bit of shaking, which scientists call earthquake.

  3. You felt it! Pretty scary. We are in the province of Messina but didn’t feel it. Etna is playing up pretty badly for now, so as long as she is making fireworks there shouldn’t be too much scary stuff. I had some visitors in the summer and they got pretty frightened by a short and strong quake. It’s the sound that scares me and the sensation of having no control! Such is the life of Sicily, the terra ballerina … she keeps dancing around!

  4. Reblogged this on Unwilling Expat and commented:
    Yes, Messina got quite a fright!!
    We didn’t feel anything though!

  5. I’d felt tremors when visiting in California, but was quite bewildered when, a couple years ago, I felt a slow, rolling motion while sitting at my computer. An earthquake in Ohio? Nonsense! And yet – the whole East Coast of the US felt it. It did damage, still being repaired, to the Washington monument in DC.
    Life in Ohio never ceases to amaze. Mostly, it annoys or depresses, but ALWAYS amazes….
    Since I believe it’s past midnight by you as I write this, Merry Christmas! If it’s not, what the hey, Merry Christmas anyway. Now go out, buy a whole bunch of white styrofoam, and freak the locals out by building your own snowman! :D

    • Thank you very much, John!
      But as we celebrate Christmas on the 24th, you wouldn’t even have needed to wait until after our midnight. ;-) But very thoughtful!

  6. Being from California, I have experienced my share of esrthquakes….but being woken up by one is always quite unsettling! Of course, when they are still fairly small, they can almost be fun…but having experienced the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, which registered 7.1 on the Richter scale, I can definitely say that nothing can quite compare to the fear that accompanies the earth shaking so violently. Once in a lifetime is quite enough for me! I’m glad that all was OK in Messina and hope that that will be it for awhile! Merry Christmas!

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