Plegraian Fields: Supervolcano puts Naples to the test

The area around Naples was rocked by a series of earthquakes earlier in the week. Initially, several strong tremors on Monday evening worried the city residents. The quake peaked at 4.4 on the Richter scale on Tuesday evening, making it the strongest earthquake in 40 years.

On Wednesday too, there was a 3.6 magnitude earthquake. The Italian Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) said the tremors were clearly felt in several districts and in several towns in the region, again scaring people. Nearly 500,000 people live in the red zone, with many spending a second night outside.

IMAGO/IPA/Laporta Salvatore

Officials set up small tent camps

Tents were set up on the beach for those who wanted to stay and an emergency plan was put in place. “We immediately activated the rescue coordination center and established contacts with the affected communities and the civil protection authority,” said Naples provincial chief Michele De Bari. Teams are busy with inspection and security work. So far, nearly 30 buildings containing around 50 families have been vacated.

Meyer: “Live with it for months”

140 prisoners at the Pozzuoli women’s prison have been temporarily transferred to other prisons in Campania. Some schools were closed or evacuation drills were conducted Wednesday. Roads and bridges were also partially closed. “We have to deal with this emergency situation and we will have to live with it for months,” said Naples Mayor Gaetano Manfredi, appealing for fear not to turn into panic.

People on the streets of Naples

IMAGO/Salvatore Laporta

People are outside for fear of an earthquake

Although earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.4 are usually moderate and usually do not cause major damage, the Phlegraean fields are currently affected by “bradyseism”, meaning the rise and fall of land as a result of underground magma movements. The land is currently rising at about 20 millimeters per month. Ten millimeters were measured at the beginning of the year, and the average for 2023 was 15 millimeters.

Pressure increases under the Earth’s crust

Mauro Di Vito, director of the Vesuvius observatory, told a public meeting in Naples: “The incidence is increasing and earthquakes will continue,” adding: “An earthquake of magnitude 4.4 occurred. Earth’s crust.” Such earthquakes are not uncommon in highly seismic Italy. “However, in this case, the earthquake was only at a depth of two kilometers, which is why such tremors are felt so clearly,” de Nadal said.

A research team led by volcanologist Christopher Kilburn concluded that the Plegreyan fields were approaching eruption. That doesn’t mean things are going that far right now, but parts of the volcano have recently stretched to the point of breaking. Such lifting has occurred three times in the last hundred years, most recently between 1982 and 1984; It is at least three meters in Pozzuoli, 15 kilometers from Naples.

Expert: “I’ll quit”

Di Vito called on the region to prepare for emergencies. Volcanologist Roberto Scandone said quite frankly: “If I had the resources, I would empty the flagellum fields.” Antonello Fiore, head of the Italian Environmental Geology, called on the government to act: “Seismic and volcano protection must be a government priority. The aim is to take structural preventive measures to protect human lives, buildings and infrastructure.

Police bus in front of women's prison


A women’s prison was evacuated as a precaution

Fiore said existing emergency plans would not be sufficient to evacuate people in the densely populated area around Naples in the event of an outbreak. “The Plegreian fields are more dangerous and prone to destructive actions than our supervolcano, Vesuvius,” said geologist Mario Dosi in an interview with Corriere della Sera. “500,000 people shouldn’t be living on them. Do these half a million people know what they should do in an emergency?” Dozi questioned.

“I don’t have too many illusions. We are a people who are not very interested in prevention,” said Civil Defense Minister Nello Musumesi, but local authorities have been alerted and are monitoring communications and evacuation drills. “Just putting them on paper is not enough,” says Musumesi. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called a meeting of the Council of Ministers to review the situation in Naples on Wednesday evening.

The map shows the Campi Flegrae (Flegraean Fields) in Naples

Graphics: APA/ORF; Quelle: What

“Anyone who chooses to live in the Blakeryan Fields area knows that he is living in a dangerous area,” recalls Musumesi. Musumesi called for a halt to construction, saying €500 million was needed to make buildings in the area safer. At the same time, he promised to help all those who wanted to leave. Regardless, emergency plans remained in place.

In the most extreme case, they plan to evacuate 1.3 million people in the entire Naples area within 72 hours. The evacuation will be coordinated by the military and civil defense. In three days, an entire region had to leave the area by train, bus and cars. However, an eruption can also have effects that go beyond the immediate catchment area. An eruption about 39,000 years ago released such a large amount of ash into the atmosphere that it affected the global climate.

The company promised

However, INGV sought reassurance: no data suggests an outbreak is imminent. There have been no significant deviations in indicators of land development or measurements of seismic events over the past few months. INGV recalls that during the bradyseismic crisis of 1982/1984, ground uplift was 90 millimeters per month and there were 1,300 seismic events per month compared to the current 450 events per month.

According to INGV, the Phlegraean fields are among the “best monitored volcanoes in the world”. They extend west of Vesuvius over an area 16 kilometers in diameter and exhibit high volcanic activity. They were created by an eruption 39,000 years ago, which left a huge crater about 100 square kilometers in area – two-thirds of which is under the sea. The word “Pleagrean” comes from ancient Greek and means “burning”.

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