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Swarm of earthquakes besets Italian town as supervolcano rumbles

The talk in shops and coffee bars in Pozzuoli, a porttownoutside Naples, is not about soccer or politics, butofthe fear that has gripped residents since asupervolcanosparked aswarmofearthquakes.

Over the past weeks the government has been planning for a possible mass evacuationoftensofthousandsofpeople who live around the vast volcanic area knownasthe Campi Flegrei, or Phlegraean Fields, from the ancient Greek word for burning.

Sulphurous fumes escape from the surface, giving the area a surreal look and making it a magnet for tourists.

Residents have become used to the smell, the fumes and the trembling. There were more than a thousandquakesin September, mostofthem minor.

But a 4.2 magnitude earthquake on Sept. 27, the strongest jolt in more than 40 years to rattle the volcanic field, sparked fears that what scientists call a “seismic crisis” may be underway for the first time since the early 1980s.

The bigquake, which caused no serious structural damage, and about 500 smaller ones so far in October, have made residents suchasAnnamaria Scardi, a motheroftwo teenagers, feel tense.

“Even those small ones (quakes) make us afraid,” she said. “We are worried because (we are supposed to) run away. But where do we go? Where? This is the situation. We’re on edge.”

Experts say there is no imminent threatofan eruption but they are concerned that the geophysical activity is causing ground uplift and descent, which can destabilise buildings.

The government, which discussed the situation in cabinet this month, would order an evacuation if civil protection officials warned buildings were in dangerofcollapse.

MOVING MAGMA

Knownasbradyseism, the shifts are caused by the filling or emptyingofmagma chambers deep underground.

When a similar crisis struck four decades ago, it lasted several years and forced the temporary evacuationof40,000 people from Pozzuoli, knownasthe hometownofactress Sophia Loren.

“My family is divided… I want to stay, but my wife and children are looking for a house in the Castel Volturno area,” said Vincenzo Russo, referring to atownabout 30 km (18 miles) north.

“When you sleep at night, the nightmare is always there. You forget the situation and you’re on the couch, and then the tremor is there with you. There are big ones and small ones. Yesterday, for example, we had two small tremors before lunch,” he said.

On a recent afternoon, Angelo Prezzini and friends, gathered in the courtyardofa social club for retirees to play cardsasthey do nearly every day, took a more sanguine view.

Prezzini, 78, said he would defy any evacuation order, while 66-year-old Luigi Ilardi, chimed in: “We are used to it. I’ve been used to it since I was 13”.

(Published 27 October 2023, 10:55 IST)

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