The Belice earthquake of 1968

One of the great traumas of Sicily, the terrible earthquake that on the night between 14 and 15 January 1968 sowed death and destruction among the towns of the Belice Valley.

The 1968 BELICE earthquake

The Belìce earthquake of 1968 it was a violent seismic event, of magnitude 6,4, which in the night between 14 and 15 January 1968 struck a vast area of ​​western Sicily, the Valle del Belìce, between the provinces of Trapani, Agrigento and Palermo.

The first quake was felt at 13pm on January 28th. Then came a second and later a third. Between fear and agitation, many people poured onto the streets and many decided to spend the night outdoors or in makeshift shelters. The earth shook again with devastating violence at 14:2 and 33:3 on January 01th. Epicenter of the earthquake was the area between Gibellina, Poggioreale, Salaparuta and Montevago. But the tremors were felt as far as Palermo. The Belice suffered a deep wound that still today has not completely healed.


The few walls still standing collapsed completely following the very strong shock that occurred on January 25, at 10:56. After this latest shock, the authorities also prohibited entry into the ruins of the villages of Gibellina, Montevago and Salaparuta.

Overall, 345 tremors were instrumentally recorded, with 81 of these having a magnitude equal to or greater than 3 between January 14 and September 1, 1968.



Damages and victims of the 1968 earthquake

Among the 14 centers affected by the Belize earthquake there were villages that were completely destroyed: Gibellina, Poggioreale, Salaparuta and Montevago. The towns of Santa Margherita di Belice, Santa Ninfa, Partanna and Salemi had 80 to 70% of their buildings destroyed or seriously damaged. Other towns that have suffered extensive damage are: Calatafimi Segesta, Camporeale, Castellammare del Golfo, Chiusa Sclafani, Contessa Entellina, Menfi, Sambuca di Sicilia, Sciacca, Vita.

The first aiders arriving near the epicenter, approximately located between Gibellina, Salaparuta and Poggioreale, found the roads almost sucked into the earth. As a result, many connections with the affected countries were still impossible twenty-four hours after the violent earthquake.




Over 300 were the victims, about 1.000 injured and 100.000 displaced.

There were also casualties among the rescuers: 5 police officers on 15 January and 2 officers later died in the shock of 25 January, along with a carabiniere and 4 firefighters.

There could have been more victims in the face of the terrifying wave of shocks which in a flash wiped out entire towns in the Belice Valley.


 Relief efforts towards the Belice Valley, 1968

Reconstruction works

One month after the Belize earthquake, in the province of Trapani 9.000 homeless people were hospitalized in public buildings, 6.000 in tent cities, 3.200 in scattered tents and 5.000 in railway wagons, while 10.000 people had emigrated to other provinces. The inhabitants lived for months in tent cities and then for years in slums. In 1973 the barracks were 48.182, in 1976 they were still 47.000. The last 250 shacks with asbestos roofs were only dismantled in 2006.

Il 1968 earthquake he immediately highlighted the shortcomings of a country that was not prepared for the emergency or even to manage the reconstruction.

 The Salaparuta-Castelvetrano railway, which connected most of the towns in the earthquake-stricken area with the coastal area, was never rebuilt, despite having good passenger traffic. The Palermo-Mazara del Vallo motorway was financed and built.

The belated economic allocations for the reconstruction gave rise to monumental works, such as those of Gibellina, a city-museum en plein air.

After decades of interminable works, the Belìce valley has slowly recovered and the ancient villages of the valley have been largely rebuilt in places distant from the original ones affected by the earthquake: new homes, urban and road infrastructures have brought back liveable conditions but have also profoundly changed the face of that part of Sicily.




Related Articles