Have you ever been in an earthquake? I have, when we lived in Birmingham, and it was a very odd experience. I must admit that it wasn’t a very big one and there was no danger of the house collapsing, although it did shake a bit. However, I can imagine the panic that a more powerful tremor would cause, not to mention the damage and the aftermath. France is not generally associated with earthquakes, but we do have them. This week, seismic activity in Europe has been unusually evident.
Last week, an earthquake measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale occurred in the Vendée and Deux-Sèvres départements. Fortunately, no one was injured and little damage occurred. People said they heard a booming noise, which is exactly what I experienced during the Birmingham earthquake, and then felt the walls and floor vibrate.
Some parts of France are more prone than others to seismic activity, according to the official map indicating seismic zoning, which shows the likelihood of an earthquake occurring on a scale of 1 (low risk) to 5 (high risk). I am very pleased to note that Tarn-et-Garonne is in the lowest risk band. I would definitely not want to be in a stone house if an earthquake took place.
Not terribly far from us, however, in Aveyron, the risk increases somewhat. Parts of Aveyron are apparently criss-crossed by fault lines. It’s hard to imagine the geological activity going on under this tranquil, bucolic landscape, but folk not far from Rodez experienced a noticeable quake of 3.9 on the Richter scale in 2014. It appears that mini quakes are happening regularly.
Parts of the Alps and the Pyrénées are classified as Zone 4 on the map and are frequently subject to quakes. The most violent earthquake recorded in France since the 16th century occurred on 11th June 1909 around Lambesc in Provence, when a quake of around 6.2 on the Richter scale took place. Several towns and villages were seriously damaged and 46 people died. To get a sense of its magnitude, the catastrophic 1906 earthquake in San Francisco was around 7.8 on the Richter scale. The Richter Scale is a logarithmic scale to cover the large variation in magnitudes. So, for example, a quake of 5.0 is ten times more powerful than one of 4.0.
Powerful after-shocks continued for days afterwards and people slept outside for fear of being buried in their houses. Had the quake taken place a century later, experts estimate that the death toll would have risen tenfold, owing to the greater population density and construction in areas at risk.
Earthquakes can apparently have an effect some distance away in low risk areas. Locally, the Ruisseau de Caudesaygues between Caylus and Espinas was once a hot spring, as its name suggests. Following an earthquake in the Pyrénées many years ago, it is said that the water ran cold, as it still does. There could, of course, be other reasons for this, but people connected the two events at the time.
Although we are somewhat better prepared for natural disasters than we were a century ago and early warning systems are more effective, the power of nature is still awe-inspiring.
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