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A Californian Native Experiences an Earthquake in Italy

It is safe to say that as a Southern Californian native, I am experienced with earthquakes. Years of earthquake preparedness has been engrained into my head. Since grade school, I have been prepared to “drop, cover, and hold”. I remember scheduled drills where blaring alarms would go off and all the students would duck down and crowd under tables while protecting our necks with our hands, exciting times. The frequency of earthquakes in California has also given me an attitude of aloofness. Small earthquakes under 3.5 on the Richter scale can happen regularly and about two or three large scale earthquakes either 5.5 or higher occur every year. That being said, feeling a 4.8 isn’t much to cause me alarm, at least not in California.

A small earthquake happened last month while I was sitting in the Biblioteca Delle Oblate in Florence (A pretty neat hang out spot with free wifi to study and meet young Italians if you are studying abroad like I am). Before it had happened, I remember coming into the building annoyed at the lack of space. Little did I know, I would have the whole room to myself. Soon after finding a seat the building began to shake for a few seconds and sure enough it was an earthquake. To me, it was nothing, to the groups of terrified people hurriedly vacating the building, it was a cause for concern. At first, I didn’t realize they were afraid of the earthquake that had subsided moments ago. I honestly hadn’t even realized it had happened until I looked up to people leaving and faces full of surprise and shock. There was even a young man next to me who came back from calling his mother to see if she was okay. He asked my roommate and I if he was dreaming or if he had really felt the building shake. Everyone was in a panic except for us, who are both from California. Then it really daunted on me. I wasn’t in California; I was in foreign soil. I had a sick feeling as I looked around the old building which seemed much more ancient than before.

Thankfully that day the earthquake was not large enough to cause any damages, just a few scared residents. But my lack of concern bothered me. I was so accustomed to earthquakes back home that I let my disregard for them put me in possible danger. My Californian mindset had to go and I had to wrap my head around what it meant to live in another country and what to expect and prepare for when it comes to natural disasters.

In the onset of seismic activity in Italy from the massive 6.6 earthquake that hit central Italy this past August, I can understand the fear the Italians students were experiencing. For one, the structure of Florence’s buildings, like many all over Italy, are hundreds of years old and many are not reinforced to sustain seismic activity. Since the devastating 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, the government has allocated over 965 million euros for earthquake preventions but that is not nearly enough to cover all the work required for buildings and roads to withstand seismic activity. As a result, these recent earthquakes have been destroying century old historical buildings. Many residents lost their homes and more importantly their lives. A national plan, Casa Italia, has been introduced by Italian Prime Minster, Mr. Matteo Renzi. It calls for making Italy up to international seismic safety standards by reinforcing structures throughout Italy. It will take years but definitely a step in the right direction.

These remaining weeks that I have had the privilege of living in Italy have been amazing. I have fallen in love with the people and the beautiful Italian structures. Experiencing an earthquake in Italy has been mind opening. It has expanded my global understanding of international natural disasters and how people experience things in other parts of the world. Though I have been prepared for earthquakes back home that doesn’t mean I am equipped to handle an earthquake here. The seismic activity in Italy has slowly subsided in the past few weeks but there are still chances of earthquakes happening. I need to be ready to deal with any that may occur and I hope that Italy stays safe when I am gone.

Wondering how you can help? Check our forum post on earthquake relief: http://www.insidersabroad.com/italy/forums/acti...

Published November 15th, 2016 by Evelin Gutierrez
Posted to Expat Blog

1 Comment

Susie White

I'm also from Southern California and grew up with the same drills. When I experienced my first earthquake in Italy, I was of course a little shaken, but continued on with my schedule.

Downstairs, I ran into all of my neighbors grouped together in the middle of the building's 'cortile', where anyone could've been hit by falling pieces, but nobody seemed to take that into consideration...it was just better to be out of the house. i proceeded to get in my car and go to work. I was shocked to see that cars were running red lights and were actually, (yes, really truly), driving on the sidewalks!!!

When I arrived at the company where I was teaching, the doorman told me that everyone in the whole (very large) company had run home to make sure everything was ok with their families and that i should go home, too.

That incident didn't bother me much at all. I do have to say that when I arrived here, though, so many Italians told me they'd never live in California because of the earthquakes. I guess I've been lucky the past three months, because i haven't felt these horrible ones, but I have to say that the WORST earthquakes I've ever experienced were actually here in Italy. Not even California earthquake drills can prepare you for a couple of the ones I've felt.

Posted November 17th, 2016

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