The last two most recent dramatic events of earthquakes hitting Haiti and Chile have recalled back in my mind of many, many years ago. In January 15 1968, when I was still living as child in Sicily and I had the very first experience with earthquakes. I remember that they weren't so destructive like those recently two, at least not close to where I was living, but a couple miles away toward the quake epicenter they really were.
The first tremors started in the night at 3 a.m. between the 14th and 15th of January 1968 hitting the Valley of Belice with the force of a 6,4° Richter scale earthquake. About fifteen towns were badly damaged, and towns like Gibellina and Salaparuta were completely destroyed. In those tragic days, 370 people died and over 70.000 were left homeless.
After all these years I still have vivid memories of those horrible moments. I remember waking up to the first earth's shaking without much realizing what was going on, and seeing my mother in a total panicky mood while rushing into the room where I and the other of my brothers were sleeping.
After helping us in dressing up, she together with my father pushed us through the stairs of two floors. Even though the all matter happened in few seconds, I had the creepy sensation we were all moving in a very slow speed. In fact, it felt like we were pulled by an invisible gravitational force toward the earth's center, and each of our steps were very painful to perform because of the sensation of our legs been all in a sudden transformed in very heavy metallic lead.
During the all commotion, I felt the constant shifting of the all building while we were moving toward the door exit, where, I noticed my father's desperation while he was attempting to open it when we realized with terror the door frame was folding itself to one side.
In 1968 exactly 42 years ago, many countries on the Belice's Valley were completely destroyed by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6,4°
After the initial difficulty of my father in opening that door, finally he succeeded in his task and right after hastening us outside the building.
Once we were outside of our building, we saw all our house neighbors pouring out of their own apartments while screaming, "u tirrimuotu, u tirrimuotu" ( the earthquake, the earthquake). I must confess, right after I saw that apocalyptic scene of grown men and women in their own panic running toward a safety zone, I understood years later, the danger of myself and my family were in that night...
Devastating earthquakes are a recurring phenomenon in vast parts of Italy as you can see from the detailed map bellow:
Map of the seismic activities in Italy
We spent the rest of that night sleeping in my father car, but the following couple of nights we lodged in a temporary shelter. It was a large and very solid one low room structure made up of very light materials, and it was located up in the hills. It belonged to one of my father's brothers, indeed, we shared it with another two of my father's brothers and theirs families. Even though it was very cold inside, we felt very comfortable in it because we were like in a big family reunion enjoying one of their weekend festivities.
The following days were really tedious because many thought the worst was gone, and many people including my family went back to what we thought the normalcy of every day life, when indeed they weren't! The Sicilian land kept shacking uninterruptedly for another exhausting couple of weeks.
One day while I was in school, another of those earthquakes struck the building and the entire schoolchildren with their teachers had to flee in a frenzied panic. You can well figure out once we were outside in the open space, all the chaotic and indescribable confusion created by apprehensive parents rushing to the school's yard for their own children.
Today that I'm living in New York City, I remember to have experienced in the past years a couple of tremors (those earthquakes occurred on Oct 27, and on Jan 17, 2001 in the New York area with a magnitude of 2.6° and 2.4° on the Richter scale). Of course nothing on the big scale but on very low intensities, so low that most of the New York population didn't even felt them and they only found out about those earthquakes only thanks to the local news medias.