In seismic terms, Italy is one of the nations most at risk in Europe. There were four major earthquakes in Italy in the 20th century, as well as dozens of minor tremors. The worst quake occurred when Messina (Sicily) and its twin city Reggio Calabria were both destroyed on 28 December 1908, with the loss of nearly 100,000 lives—one of the worst natural disasters in European history. This tremor was measured at 7.5 on the Richter scale.
   There have been three major quakes more recently. In January 1968, a quake killed 300 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless in western Sicily. In May 1976, more than 1,000 people were killed by an earthquake in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, near the Yugoslav border. Volunteers came from all over Italy to clear away the wreckage and help the Friuliani get back on their feet. In November 1980, a massive tremor (6.8 on the Richter scale) killed 6,000 people in Campania and Basilicata. This terrible natural calamity was compounded by the behavior of Italy’s politicians, who turned the disaster into an opportunity to funnel huge sums of relief aid into the area and then to siphon it off to their client networks, friendly businessmen, and organized crime (which carried great electoral weight in the Naples region). It has been calculated that over 50 thousand billion lire ($30 billion) were earmarked for earthquake relief, but most of this money was never spent on the reconstruction efforts, and well into the 1990s several thousand refugees continued to live in the prefabricated huts thrown up in the aftermath of the emergency. In September 1997, a series of earthquakes struck Umbria, taking fewer lives but destroying priceless frescoes by Giotto in the church of Saint Francis in Assisi.
   See also Mafia.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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