Before any of you start to panic, you’ll be glad to know that the chances of Malta experiencing a highly destructive earthquake are very slim indeed, due to the fact that we are not directly located on a plate boundary. So, we may all breathe a sigh of relief. Phew.
However, we are in fact 200Km south of the convergent Europe-Africa plate boundary, where the movement of these plates tend to be the epicentre of minor tremors felt in some parts of the Mediterranean. We are therefore not excused from the occasional quake, despite our low seismicity rate. You’ve probably experienced one or two for yourself at some point in your life.
Moreover, the Maltese Islands are not far from three active volcanoes – Mt Etna, Mt Vesuvius and Mt Stromboli. These may sometimes release natural gases with great momentum, causing nearby land to feel the released pressure. However, due to the distance, it is highly unlikely that a major earthquake in Malta could be triggered by such volcanic activity.
To date, we have seven recorded cases of damaging earthquakes in our archives. The rest are accounts of momentary shuddering which thankfully left no damage or casualties. The strongest earthquake experienced in Malta was back in January 1693, which made its mark in our historical timeline due to excessive destruction, especially in Mdina and Valletta. It all began on the 9th January when the east of Sicily was struck by a 5.9 earthquake, which affected several towns in the area. The people of Malta had also felt its force, but disaster mainly struck 48 hours later, when the magnitude of the second earthquake shot up to 7.4 on the Richter scale. It was experienced by most localities around the islands, and most people spent a number of days sleeping outside in tents or shelters. All houses and churches in Valletta required some form of repair, and St Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina had partially collapsed. A tsunami was also experienced in Xlendi, Gozo which caused an acre of land at Sannat to crumble. In spite of all the destruction, Malta got off lightly compared to Sicily, where an approximate 93,000 lives were perished.
Image, Xlendi Gozo
If we fast forward to the 21st century, we have indeed experienced a few seconds of shuddering in January and August 2002, and in July 2003, to mention a few occurrences. Thankfully, no lives were lost and nothing got broken. We probably suffer worse damage during heavy Autumn showers!
But who’s to say nature won’t strike big next time? What would you do in an earthquake and how would you survive? Unfortunately, many buildings and houses in Malta are not earthquake-resistant, so in case of a ground-shaking emergency, we’ll have to make do with the following protocol:
Stay right where you are. Remain calm. Stay inside if you’re inside. Stay outside if you’re outside.
Drop down to the ground… before the ground drops you. If the floor inside is shaking, the jerking could be strong enough to trip you, knock you over or even throw you across. As soon as you feel the quake, drop to the floor crouched down on your knees and cover your head and neck with your hands.
Take shelter. Once you’re crouched down on the floor, get under the nearest sturdy table and hang onto one of its legs to keep it from moving. This will protect you from any falling objects.
Don’t run, especially outside. The chaos earthquakes create lead to flying debris and shattered glass. You do not want to crash into any of these as you’re trying not to get tripped over by the shaking floor.
Avoid doors. The shaking could cause the door to swing and hit anyone in its vicinity.
Stay in the lift. If you find yourself in a lift when the shaking starts, drop, cover yourself and stay right where you are until the earthquake stops. Once you sense that it’s over, try to get out at the nearest floor. If the lift isn’t working, remain calm and wait to be rescued.
Step away from power sources and buildings. If you happen to be outdoors when an earthquake starts, avoid electrical poles, street lights and buildings, as these are likely to fall while still having an electric current. You must also crouch down to the floor and cover your head and neck.
Flee from beaches and coasts. As soon as you feel a tremor, drop down and cover your head and neck. Once the shaking stops, travel as far away as you can to higher ground and as far away from the coast as possible, as a tsunami may follow suit of the quake.
Stay in your car. If you happen to be driving, pull over and park in an open space and remain in your vehicle with your seat belt fastened. This will stop you from being thrown forward during the jerking. Once the shaking stops, drive cautiously and avoid bridges or unstable fly-overs and ramps.
Have you ever experienced an earthquake? Let us know in the comment section below.