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"Tell Mom I'm OK" – Earthquake in Rome UPDATED x 3

I’m fine

About six hours ago, we here in Rome were rocked by what my 32 year old cousin and his 65 year old neighbor say is the worst earthquake Rome has seen in their lifetime.

The quake struck at 3:30 in the morning, literally knocking me out of bed. A loud moaning sound joined the violent shaking that threw me out of bed. This was no ordinary earthquake, not the rolling motions I experienced when I got caught up in the Whittier Narrows quake as a child visiting my aunt in California, a violent shaking, as if someone picked up our house and is shaking it like a bottle of Gatorade. The sounds of glass breaking join the noise of plaster cracking and my cousin screaming “TERREMOTO!”

image courtesy REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi, Aquila.

The quake lasted for a while…probably a minute or more. Enough time for me to figure out what was going on, struggle into a doorway, and then upon realizing I wouldn’t be able to keep standing, fell to me knees and covered my head, waiting for the shaking to stop.

The power went out for 45 minutes. The only light; that coming from the Vatican a few miles north. Neighbors gathered in the streets as the Carabinieri’s sirens wailed through the city’s streets. The immediate reaction is to remain calm or, where there wasn’t calm, reinstate it.

Aftershocks have been rocking us all day. As I write, the room is vibrating slightly, a rumble like the sound of a distant airplane, the palm branches of the palm tree outside bounce…there is no wind.

As daylight came, whatever damage we suffered was clear. The roof of a car port crushed a neighbor’s Fiat. A stone wall in the park around the block collapsed. The sign at the petrol station is on the ground.

I try to call home, but in New York, it’s the middle of the night. I text my brother;

“Earthquake, Tell mom I’m ok. Don’t panic”

An interesting thing I discover in the morning…Despite it being Monday, and the capital relatively unscathed…Romans aren’t rushing to work this morning. A young man across the street gets into his car. He must head to Terracina to check on his mama, even though Terracina is southwest of Rome, while the earthquake hit to the northeast. A few others gather to see if they can head up into the mountains and see what they can do to help. Word on RAI is that a college dorm collapsed in L’Aquila and dozens may be dead.


I’m fine…a little too much excitement for a Monday.

UPDATE: I’m being sent up to L’Aquila for work to get some footage from the quake, and also maybe help if I can…the A24 autostrada (interstate) that heads that way is closed. As soon as it opens, I’m off to the epicenter.

UPDATE: 10:40pm Rome time: Back to Rome, the devestation is a lot worse than we though. L’Aquila is devestated. The main cathedral that’s been standing for 800 years has been nearly destroyed. The roof collapsed and all that is left is the front of the church. We joined authorities through the towns of Bazzano, Onna, San Gregorino, and Castelnuovo. These are small towns along a road that connects L’Aquila with the costal city of Pescara. If I was to compare it to something in America, I’d say think of US-7 through Western New England. The towns along this road are devestated. Onna is almost completely destroyed. I spoke to a local official who expects 200-500 fatalities in the region of Abruzzo. This is the worst natural disaster Italy has suffered since the 1980 Earthquake outside Naples.

I wasn’t able to really help unfortunately because the situation is still being organized up there. Many local residents are picking through the rubble of their homes and authorities are only now reaching some of the small remote towns in the mountains away from L’Aquila. If the death toll rises substantially, it will be because of these areas. It’s unfortunate that almost everyone was sleeping when this hit. Many couldn’t get to safety. A local doctor spoke to someone in my crew and said some of the dead were clearly sleeping when they were killed…didn’t know what hit them.

Tomorrow I’m heading for Pescara, will probably be there a few days.

UPDATE: 4:44am Rome time: This must be the only country in the world that’s beautiful even after a natural disaster.

UPDATE: 8:09pm- Pescara– we had another strong aftershock about 20 minutes ago that felt nearly as strong as the original, but did not last nearly as long


  1. louisprandtl

    any major calamity there. The very few times that I’ve experienced such tremors, I was reminded of the awesome power of nature and how fragile our existence is. The thought of utter helplessness is so overpowering in these situations…ah well..

    Be safe…

  2. dtox

    I spend a week in L’Aquila every summer for the last three years. There’s a conference/summer school there.

    I guess it’s human nature -these things seem a lot more immediate if you’ve walked the streets now on tv.

    Good luck.  

  3. anna shane

    … last year and toured the ruins of the big quake there, it was incredible.  Mother nature isn’t always benign.  Living in California all my life I’ve been through many, we get very blase, but then we don’t have old stone homes, and we don’t lose many lives.  I was living in LA during the big ’69 quake, that lasted a long time and scared a lot of cats. I was in San Francisco when we got our most recent big one, in eighty-something.  My house is on a big fault line, but the thing about earthquakes is that they’re unpredictable.

    But our worst disaster was predictable, meaning Katrina, it was predicted, we expected it.  We knew it was coming and our government let people drown.  That’s a scandal that can’t be forgotten.

    I have no doubt the Italians aren’t letting people die for lack of trying, or lack of preparation.  Best to you.    

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