The 2009 L'Aquila earthquake

On the night between 5 and 6 April 2009, at 3:32, a quake of 5.8 on the Richter scale (Mw 6.3) hit the Abruzzo capital, causing serious damage even to neighboring cities. The L'Aquila earthquake of 6 April 2009 is considered one of the most disastrous earthquakes in contemporary history.


The L'Aquila earthquake of 6 April 2009

The 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila is considered to be one of the most serious earthquakes in contemporary history due to the extent of the damage caused to the affected cities. A series of seismic events, which began in December 2008 and ended in 2012, had epicenters in the entire area of ​​the city, the Aquilan basin and part of the province of L'Aquila (lower Valle dell'Aterno, Monti della Laga and Monti dell ' Alto Aterno).

The main shock, which occurred on 6 April 2009 at 3:32, with a moment magnitude (Mw) equal to 6,3, with its epicenter in the area between the hamlets of Roio Colle, Genzano di Sassa and Collefracido (Colle Miruci a Roio), has affected a large part of the territory between central and southern Italy.

In the 48 hours after the main shock and in the following days, another 256 shocks or reruns were recorded, of which more than 150 on Tuesday 7 April, of which 56 were over 3,0 ML. Three events of magnitude greater than 5,0 occurred on April 6, 7, and 9. From the examination of the signals of the INGV Aquilana station (AQU, located in the basement of the Spanish Fort), more than 10.000 shocks were counted. The seismic swarm following the main event of 6 April therefore moves to neighboring areas to the north-west of the city and in general to the Aquila basin (Pizzoli, Campotosto and Montereale).

Another 4,7 MW magnitude event took place at 22:58 on 22 June, with its epicenter near the town of Pizzoli, 11 km from L'Aquila.


Rubble from buildings that collapsed in the 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila

What were the effects and damage caused by the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake?

In light of the damage and the victims, the earthquake of L'Aquila in 2009 it is the fifth most destructive earthquake in Italy in contemporary times after the Messina earthquake of 1908, the Avezzano earthquake of 1915, the Friuli earthquake of 1976 and the Irpinia earthquake of 1980.

The earthquake was felt over a large area including all of Central Italy, up to Naples, causing panic among the population. Among the regions most affected is Abruzzo, followed by Lazio, but some minor damage was found up to the area of ​​Ascoli Piceno, in the Marche region. According to the estimates sent by the Italian government to the European Commission to access the European Solidarity Fund, the damage amounts to about 10,212 billion euros since the earthquake directly hit a city and not a simple rural area.

The final toll is 309 victims, over 1.600 injured. Fortunately, many people were pulled alive from the rubble, even after many hours after the main shock.

The earthquake completely destroyed many buildings, including the headquarters of the Prefecture of L'Aquila, which should have been the relief coordination center, and the Student House, in which eight university students died.


The Prefecture of L'Aquila after the 2009 earthquake, one of the symbols of the destruction


In addition to Prefecture, among the most important buildings that have collapsed or severely damaged in the city are the dome of the Chiesa delle Anime Sante, the apse and transept of the Cathedral and the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, a part of Student house, the Department of Literature and History and the Engineering and Economics Pole of the University of L'Aquila at Roio and the “Duca degli Abruzzi” hotel. The most serious situation, excluding the historic center of L'Aquila, resulted in Via XX Settembre, geomorphologically disadvantaged, and in the area of ​​the Villa Comunale where many houses were declared uninhabitable.

The earthquake also caused considerable damage to the historical-artistic heritage of which the city of L'Aquila was particularly rich: all the churches (more than a hundred), starting with the most important basilicas, were immediately declared uninhabitable due to major injuries or collapses. together with historic buildings in the historic center including the Spanish Fort, one of the symbols of the city.


The Student House after the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake

What actions have been taken to support the affected populations and what are the reconstruction works after the L'Aquila earthquake of 6 April 2009?

The event immediately involved a significant deployment of police forces, air and land rescue vehicles, firefighters, civil protection, army, Navy and Air Force. The phases of the emergency were divided into a first phase consisting of immediate and subsequent aid to those involved, a phase consisting of the construction and management of the tent cities and one of the construction of temporary houses as regards the housing emergency and finally that of putting in place. safety of damaged buildings and subsequent reconstruction. Immediately after the first and second phase of the emergency, the Civil Protection prohibits pedestrian transit, for safety reasons, in various areas affected by the earthquake, from the historic center of L'Aquila to the neighboring centers most involved, labeling them as a "red zone".

As of 9 August 2009, according to the Civil Protection, the displaced persons were 48.818, of which 19.973 in 137 tent cities (in 5.029 tents), 19.149 in hotels and 9.696 in private homes. To these must be added 273 people present in 9 spontaneous camps. Then there are 4.764 people who have had accommodation in the CASE project (Sustainable and Ecocompatible Seismic Complexes) and 480 in the MAP (Temporary Housing Modules).

In the face of this emergency, the Government has made available a subsidy for autonomous accommodation for those who had lost their homes, and an unemployment benefit for the loss of work. As a further countermeasure, the event resulted in the freezing of the payment of taxes by the residents of the affected area as envisaged by the Government's intervention and reconstruction plan and as happened in the past for other Italian earthquakes. We then tried to revive the local economy by relying as much as possible on local companies and cooperatives for the supply of materials and works useful for reconstruction.

Furthermore, the Abruzzo decree was approved, for which measures were envisaged to deal with the emergency of the earthquake, including the suspension of the payment of social security contributions, welfare contributions and the insurance premium, a contribution of up to 400 euros per month for displaced families and the suspension for 2 months of the payment of telephone, water, electricity and gas utilities.


Rubble of buildings that collapsed during the L'Aquila earthquake


Reconstruction works
There was no shortage of problems related to reconstruction, from the initial problem of removing and disposing of one million tons of rubble, to the subsequent housing emergency. Many public and historical buildings, but also private ones, have been reconstructed and have made it possible to restore a large part of the cultural heritage of L'Aquila. There are still many, however, the rubble present in the city. Of the 247 interventions planned by the Regional Secretariat for Cultural Heritage, at the moment just under 50% have been completed, against 116 still not started and 19 in progress.


Facade of the church of Santa Maria del Suffragio (L'Aquila), after the consolidation and restoration works.

Solidarity actions

The solidarity actions that have been undertaken towards the populations hit by the earthquake have been many. Many Italian companies have offered their help in various ways. All the Italian mobile phone companies sent free minutes of phone calls and top-ups to all their customers in Abruzzo and extended their coverage with additional reception stations to be able to serve the tent cities. In addition, some companies have adopted a single national number to which donations can be made by making a call or sending an SMS. Other companies had decided to suspend the payment of bills for all Abruzzo customers. Ferrovie dello Stato has made available to the homeless some sleeping cars and free tickets for all people and students in Abruzzo. AISCAT (Italian Association of Motorway and Tunnel Concessionary Companies) declared that it had abolished the toll on all Abruzzo roads. On April 19, 2009, the CEI promoted a collection in all Italian parishes, to be allocated to Caritas for aid to the earthquake victims (27 million euros were collected on that occasion). There was also a lot of international aid.

Every year, at the same time as the 2009 earthquake devastated the city of L'Aquila, extinguishing 309 lives, as many bell tolls ring out to remember those who lost their lives due to the earthquake. In addition, every 6 April, a long torchlight procession is organized in commemoration of the victims.


L'Aquila, April 6, 2021. Due to the anti-contagion restrictions, the torchlight procession did not take place, but a beam of blue light was projected from Piazza Duomo and 309 bells tolled in memory of the victims.

As reported by INGV earthquakes, the studies on the 2009 earthquake, followed by those on the seismic sequence of Central Italy, allowed us to understand many details of the seismogenic processes and the danger of the Apennines.

Remembering events such as that of the L'Aquila earthquake is a must to understand the importance of prevention and anti-seismic culture: safe reconstructions and adaptations, reinforcements and anti-seismic technologies are the key to avoiding, in the event of an earthquake, that these tragedies happen again and protect buildings, homes and the lives of those who live there.



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