Waking up and getting up early is something I usually enjoy, but on a cool December morning, 5:20 is a bit too early. Even according to the rigid regiment of my alarm clock, I would had another 70 minutes of sleep; not counting the encore I can wrest from it on good days.
But on 23 December 2013 I am woken up at that time in a manner I have never been woken up before. It feels like someone is easily pushing my heavy bed from left to right and back again several times. From one second to the next, I am awake and notice that not only the bed is moving. The bedroom, actually the whole house, is being pushed back and forth in a steady rhythm, accompanied by a slight rumbling. After a few seconds it’s over. Complete silence. Although I have never had any experience with it, there can be no doubt: this was an earthquake.
Immediately I get up and go out onto the rear balcony, expecting to see the village ablaze and the streets filled with people in panic. Nothing. It’s already light, but completely quiet. No sound from the rooster who sometimes accompanies my alarm clock. No whining cat. I don’t hear a single car alarm, although they usually even go off when a squirrel scurries across the car or an overripe orange falls from the tree.
I am getting uncertain whether I may have classified the events as an earthquake too prematurely. Quickly I go through the other possible explanations for a strongly vibrating house, but I have to discard them one by one: an explosion would have been much louder and wouldn’t lead to this rhythmic back-and-forth shaking. The same if I was under attack with heavy weapons. Due to how the house is situated towards the street, it is unlikely that it was hit by a truck. With a tank, I would hear the engine, with a helicopter I would hear the rotor blades. Without any prior warning, it is unlikely that the bailiff comes early in the morning on the day before Christmas to wrap up the house and carry it away. No, an earthquake remains the only possibly explanation.
To obtain verification of my amateurish analysis, I switch on Rai News 24, the Italian news channel. They are reviewing the newspapers of the day, then there is a report on Angela Merkel’s opinion about something related to Italy. The news in Italy carry comments by Angela Merkel on almost so many things that one could come to the belief she was the President of Europe. Then of course football. The news channel still has no mentioning of the earthquake in the own country even 15 minutes after it happened.
Thus I look up the Italian word for earthquake: terremoto, and search for it on Twitter. Indeed, there are a few messages about an earthquake, with the epicentre alternatively in Reggio Calabria (the tip of the Italian boot), in Messina (the city in Sicily closest to mainland Italy) or in the strait between the two. I live about 20 km west of Messina. The earthquake registered with 4 points on the Richter scale.
With this confirmation I go out onto the road to look for visible damage to the house and the environment. Except for a broken flower pot in the middle of the road, I cannot detect any signs of a natural catastrophe. And something like this woke me up.
During the day, anyone whom I meet in this Sicilian village talks about Christmas first and about the earthquake second. Even then it’s not about today’s earthquake, but about the one from 1908. Back then there was a much stronger earthquake in Messina (7.2 on the Richter scale) which caused a tsunami that destroyed almost the whole city and killed about 70,000 people in Messina alone. It was one of the most devastating natural catastrophes in the history of Europe. Eerily, that earthquake also happened around Christmas, on 28 December 1908. Even more eerily, it took place at exactly the same time of the day, at 5:20 in the morning. Whenever I use the word coincidenza in this context today, I am being stared at incredulously as if I represent a new and totally absurd theory.
In the evening, the earthquake has moved down on the websites even of Sicilian newspapers: the top story now is about a cold front to reach northern Italy in the coming days. The prospect of snow over Christmas is already more newsworthy than an earthquake.
(Von diesem Artikel gibt es auch eine deutsche Version.)