Twenty-five years after the great Faial earthquake, the earth still shakes

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Twenty-five years after the earthquake of July 9, 1998, which killed eight people and destroyed 70 percent of the housing stock on the island of Faial in the Azores, the earth continues to tremble, due to a new seismic crisis.

According to CIVISA, the Seismovulcanic Surveillance and Information Center of the Azores, dozens of earthquakes (some of them felt) have been registered since the beginning of the week, with their epicenter at sea, west of the parish of Capelo, exactly on the opposite side of the great earthquake, which also occurred at sea, only five kilometers from the tip of Ribeirinha, on the east coast.

“The seismic activity west of the island of Faial is above the normal reference values,” says the official website of CIVISA, which says it is monitoring the evolution of this seismic crisis of tectonic origin, i.e. resulting from the movement of tectonic plates that cross the central group of the Azores.

Despite the startle among Faial’s population (where less than 15 thousand inhabitants live) due to the new seismic crisis, José Contente, current PS deputy in the regional parliament and who was regional secretary for Housing and Public Works 25 years ago, believes that Faial “is now better prepared to face phenomena such as the July 9, 1998 earthquake.

The ex-governor recalls, in statements to Lusa, the difficulties that the executive felt to provisionally lodge the people, in a first phase, in temporary tents, and later in prefabricated buildings.

Twenty-five years after the great Faial earthquake, the earth still shakes
Ribeirinha Lighthouse damaged by 1998 earthquake

“We had to relocate those people right away, that summer, in terms of temporary relocation. I remember, at this distance, there were no prefabricated buildings anywhere, the factories were closed in the summer. A team had to come from Canada to assemble this type of prefabricated building,” he says.

At the time, the mayor of Horta was Renato Leal, elected by the PS, who had left the island on vacation with his family the day before the earthquake, and only realized the extent of the damage when he returned.

“I had left the day before on a beautiful sunny day. I hadn’t been on vacation for three years, and I was woken up perhaps half an hour after the earthquake had occurred. The information that my secretary gave me immediately pointed to a very unpleasant situation,” he says. It was not yet known how many people were killed.

He hastily returned to Faial, hitching a ride on a Portuguese Air Force Falcon, where the Prime Minister at the time, António Guterres, and two ministers, Jorge Coelho and Armando Vara, also followed.

“At the request of the Prime Minister, the pilot flew over the island of Faial and the impact was horrible,” he recalls, describing that “there were a lot of roads that were blocked and a lot of houses that were totally or partially destroyed.”

Currently away from active political life, Renato Leal, who was also a PS deputy in the Portuguese Parliament, has no doubts that Faial’s housing stock “is much better, safer,” with the reconstruction of the earthquake damage, which amounted to 250 million euros.

Who also doesn’t forget that fateful dawn is Fátima Quaresma, at the time resident in the place of Espalhafatos, parish of Ribeirinha, one of the many people who were left homeless.

“I was working in the hospital when the earthquake occurred. People panicked. Then I tried to return home, but the roads were blocked and there was a lot of dust in the air,” he tells Lusa.

The earthquake, which reached 5.9 on the Richter scale, destroyed the bridge that connected the center of the parish of Ribeirinha to Espalhafatos, leaving the town isolated.

“We had around 80 people in the camp. Then we slowly organized ourselves and made the food. Then they came to set up the tents and people gradually joined the family and the group,” relates Fatima, who led the group.

Her example of initiative led her to be decorated with a medal of civic merit by the President of the Republic for her role in the following months.

The firefighters also played a key role in rescuing the victims, when many of them had also been left homeless.

“There are firemen who had houses that disappeared. They were also victims of the earthquake, but they dropped everything to help the population. The family was left in second place. This is characteristic of what a volunteer fireman is”, highlights António Fraga, former commander of the Faialenses Voluntary Firemen.

The earthquake also destroyed the religious heritage in many parishes of the island. According to Marco Luciano, ombudsman of Horta and for years responsible for the process of rebuilding churches, eight temples – out of a total of 13 parishes – no longer have conditions for worship.

Twenty-five years later, the priest regrets that the shock has also left deep scars in the hearts of the faithful, who he considers to be more distant from religious life today than they were at that time.

“What there has been is a growing desertification of people. A disaffection, both in the practice of faith and in community life. Currently, Faial is more distant from the life of the Church than it was before the earthquake,” he says.

Today, there are still two parish churches that have not reopened: Pedro Miguel, which has been rebuilt and will be inaugurated this month, and Ribeirinha.

Twenty-five years after the great Faial earthquake, the earth still shakes

Costa marks 25 years since Azores earthquake highlighting “exemplary reconstruction”

The prime minister today marked the 25th anniversary of the earthquake in Faial, Pico and São Jorge, which caused eight deaths, paying tribute to the inhabitants of the Azorean islands and the “efficiency of the public authorities that achieved an exemplary reconstruction.

In a message posted on the social network Twitter, António Costa recalls that today is “25 years since the seismic crisis that shook mainly the islands of Faial and Pico, causing victims, thousands of homeless and destruction of infrastructure.

“I pay tribute to the people of Faial and Pico and to the efficiency of the public authorities that have accomplished an exemplary reconstruction,” reads the message.

On July 9, 1998, a 5.8 Richter scale earthquake hit the north coast of Faial Island, in the Azores, causing eight deaths, 110 injured and more than 1,500 homeless, and destroying 70% of the island’s housing stock.

Speaking to Lusa as part of a report on the 25th anniversary of the earthquake, José Contente, current PS deputy in the regional parliament and who was regional secretary for Housing and Public Works in 1998, recalled the difficulties the executive felt that year to provisionally house people, initially in temporary tents, and later in prefabricated buildings.

“We had to relocate those people right away, that summer, in terms of temporary relocation. I remember, at this distance, there were no prefabricated buildings anywhere, the factories were closed in the summer. A team had to come from Canada to assemble this type of prefabricated building,” he says.

25 years later, the former governor believes that Faial “is today better prepared to face phenomena such as the July 9, 1998 earthquake,” even though the island is now being hit again by a new seismic crisis.

According to CIVISA, the Seismovulcanic Surveillance and Information Center of the Azores, dozens of earthquakes (some of them felt) have been registered since the beginning of the week, with their epicenter at sea, west of the parish of Capelo, exactly on the opposite side of the great earthquake, which also occurred at sea, only five kilometers from the tip of Ribeirinha, on the east coast.

“The seismic activity west of the island of Faial is above the normal reference values,” says the official website of CIVISA, which says it is monitoring the evolution of this seismic crisis of tectonic origin, i.e. resulting from the movement of tectonic plates that cross the central group of the Azores.

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