Messina Earthquake of 1908

On the early morning of December 28, 1908, the Italian city of Messina awoke to the deadliest earthquake in European history.

Striking just days after Christmas in the Straits of Messina, the 7.2 (USGS) magnitude quake shook for nearly 30 seconds, toppling several story buildings and burying alive it's occupants. Minutes later, the tsunami came, measuring somewhere between 20 to 40 feet high. The waves were gradually followed by smaller ones, until the water finally subsided.

When it was over, the city of Messina, which only had a population of 150,000, had been entirely destroyed, along with the nearby city of Reggio di Calabria, and other outlying areas. It is estimated that the combined earthquake and tsunami killed almost 100,000 people, that fateful December morning.

72,000 deaths. Over 40% of the population of Messina and more than 25% of Reggio di Calabria killed by the earthquake and tsunami, as well as by fires in some parts of Messina. Casualty toll is based on census data 1901-1911, some estimates are as high as 110,000. Severe damage in large parts of Calabria and Sicily. Felt throughout Sicily and north to Naples and Campobasso. Also felt on Malta, in Montenegro and Albania and on the Ionian Islands. Tsunami heights of 6-12 m (20-39 ft) observed on the coast of Sicily south of Messina and heights of 6-10 m (20-33 ft) observed along the coast of Calabria. Aftershocks continued into 1913.

On December 28, 1908, at approximately 5:20am, Europe's most powerful earthquake shook southern Italy. Centered in the Messina Strait, which separates Sicily from Calabria, the quake's magnitude equaled a 7.5 by today's Richter scale. Moments after the quake's first jolt, a devastating tsunami formed, causing forty-foot waves to crash down on dozens of coastal cities.

The Messina quake was undeniably the most destructive to ever hit Europe. Most of southern Italy's cities lost as many as half their residents that morning. The population of the city of Messina alone -- 150,000 -- was reduced to only hundreds; the total death toll throughout Italy was estimated at nearly 200,000. Accounts of shaking and aftershocks were reported throughout Sicily. Signs of the jolt even appeared in Washington, D.C., where the day's crude technology picked up signals of the disaster.

On December 28, 1908 at 5:21 am an earthquake of Richter magnitude 7.5 occurred centered on Messina, a city in Sicily. Reggio Calabria on the Italian mainland also suffered heavy damage. The ground shook for some 30 to 40 seconds, and the destruction was felt within a 300 km radius. Moments after the earthquake, a 40 feet (12 m) tsunami struck nearby coasts causing even more devastation. 93% of structures in Messina were destroyed and some 70,000 residents were killed. Rescuers searched through the rubble for weeks, and whole families were still being pulled out alive days later, but thousands remained buried there. Buildings in the area had not been constructed for earthquake resistance, having heavy roofs and vulnerable foundations.