Impacts of the 1669 eruption and the 1693 earthquakes on the Etna Region (Eastern Sicily, Italy): An example of recovery and response of a small area to extreme events
In this paper we trace the impact of the 1669 eruption and the 1693 earthquakes in eastern Sicily, their effects on the people living in the Etna region and, more particularly, in the city of Catania and its hinterland. The former event was the largest historic eruption of Etna, having a flow field with an area of ca. 40 km2 and a maximum flow length of ca. 17 km, whereas the latter - occurring only 24 years later - killed between 11,000 and 20,000 of Catania's estimated 20-27,000 inhabitants, plus many more in smaller settlements. Using a combination of field-based research, contemporary accounts and archival sources, the authors are able to draw a number of conclusions. First, the 1669 eruption, although it did not kill or injure, was economically the most devastating of historical eruptions. Although it affected a limited area, inundation by lava meant that land was effectively sterilized for centuries and, in a pre-industrial agriculturally-based economy, recovery could not occur quickly without outside assistance from the State. Indeed some of the worst affected municipalities (i.e. Comuni) were only able to support populations that were much reduced in size. Secondly, much of the damage caused to buildings by volcanic earthquakes was effectively masked, because most of the settlements affected were quickly covered by lava flows. The vulnerability to volcanic earthquakes of traditionally constructed buildings has, however, remained a serious example of un-ameliorated risk exposure through to the present day. A third conclusion is that the 1693 earthquakes, although more serious with respect to the number of people and the area they affected in terms of mortality, morbidity and their immediate economic impact, saw a rapid and sustained recovery. This was due in part to the fact that, in contrast to lava flows, an earthquake does not sterilize land, but more significant was the reduction in population numbers which served both to release and concentrate funds for investment in recovery. By the close of the eighteenth century Catania was known throughout Europe for the quality of its townscape and buildings, many of which were constructed in the then fashionable (and expensive) baroque style. Finally, the 1669 and 1693 disasters were seized on by the authorities as opportunities to plan new and re-build old settlements with improved infrastructure to facilitate economic growth. By the nineteenth century many of the lessons had been largely forgotten and there were many examples of: poor seismic design of individual buildings; and the location of new residential and commercial areas that placed more people at greater risk from future extreme events. Indeed it is only recently have new regulations been enacted to prevent the construction of buildings in the vicinity of active faults and to control development in other hazardous zones.