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Earthquakes in Emilia-Romagna

               In early June 2012 I was on holiday in Modena, just when the earthquakes hit the region of Emilia -Romagna. It turned out the epicentre was extremely close to Modena, and here is an account I wrote on the day of the earthquakes. I actually submitted it to the Telegraph’s weekly ‘Just Back’ travel writing competition, but sadly didn’t actually win. This piece has been sitting on my laptop for the past 9 months and I’m not entirely sure why it has only just now occurred to me to publish it. I hope you like it – I adopted a more narrative style for this piece & I’d appreciate any feedback!

Earthquake in Modena               The temperature hovers around 27°C and it’s a beautiful day in late May. The intense azure sky above us is interrupted only by the odd blackbird that swoops and soars overhead. It’s a weekday so children are in school and adults are at work, hence the peaceful quiet that fills the streets of Modena, an elegant medieval city in the region of Emilia-Romagna, in northern Italy. However today is different. Today the entire region has been hit by a series of earthquakes, the strongest of which reached 5.8 on the Richter scale, and panic has erupted. The tranquil silence vanished in an instant – at first the tinkling of window panes and glassware, then hundreds of car alarms triggered simultaneously. When the ground begins to wobble like jelly everyone suddenly rushes outside at top speed, worried about the stability of the centuries-old palazzi that comprise Modena’s historic city centre. As the Italians well know, and as they’ve seen in various cities in northern Italy, these palazzi need little provocation to make them crumble to pieces like a Jenga tower. Only a few minutes after each earthquake, ambulance sirens echo through the streets and rescue helicopters tear past overhead, searching for people trapped under collapsed buildings. Every hour that passes the death toll on the news rises – it has already reached 15. As schools are evacuated, people are heading by any means possible to southern Italy and to safety. How has a supposedly tranquil holiday destination turned into a danger zone?

                Today’s earthquakes have, literally and metaphorically, shaken everyone and thoughts immediately turn to the L’Aquila earthquake in Abruzzo three years ago, which also reached 5.8 on the Richter scale and ended up taking 308 lives. The worry on everyone’s minds is: when will the next one strike? We’ve had five or six today already and as luck would have it, the very epicentre of the earthquake is but 17 miles away from Modena, in a town called Medolla.

              As the situation lies very much out of my hands, I’ve decided to stay out in the open on the terrace, where there’s a significantly smaller chance of being buried. The sun still shines on as if nothing had ever happened so I close my eyes and try to block out the sirens around me, this is after all my holiday and worrying never got me anywhere. As I soak up the sun in a bikini I suddenly have a thought: if the building does suddenly collapse, trapping my clothes, passport and all my belongings inside, and if I have to be evacuated into the street, I simply cannot walk around the city in a bikini. Especially given the utmost importance the Italians attribute to the bella figura, that just wouldn’t do.

                So I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s very little to do other than pack a few essentials, keep them by the side of my sunlounger, and sit it out calmly, in true British style.


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