Kefalonia 1953 earthquake
In 1953 One of the world’s most powerful earthquakes destroyed the Greek islands of the Ionian Sea.
It was August 9th 1953 when the tremors commenced their rage on the islands. A staggering 113 tremors and aftershocks took their toll on the Ionians Islands of Zante, Kefalonia, Lefkada and Ithaca.. These were a series of four major earthquakes, each stronger than the other, culminating on August 12, 1953, in a tremor that measured 7.2 on the Richter scale and lasted some 50 seconds, it left a trail of havoc and tragedy. The Ionian islands, and in particular the area around Kefalonia, Lefkada and Zakynthos are the most earthquake-prone area in an arc stretching from western Europe into China.
On Kefalonia devastation was all around and the destruction caused was appalling. The capitol Argostoli was flattened and most of it’s outlying villages destroyed. In the most devastated parts up to 80% of the local population was killed.
The landscape showed large opened crevices and deep cracks opened on roads and tracks. Very few places on Kefalonia escaped damage, sparse areas around Fiskardo in the north of the island managed to escape the worst. Elsewhere entire towns and villages were razed, with more than 600 lives lost and thousands being left injured and homeless.
The strongest earthquake of the 12th was around lunchtime and many people were cooking at the time, this led to fires breaking out as people used gas to cook with.
This act of nature explains why there is a lack of historical architecture in Kefalonia.
The Kefalonia’s were very brave as they had just came through WW2 and the Civil War, they had suffered enormously. The earthquake had made them ready to tackle yet more hardship. International help aided the islanders, with United States, Britain, France, Israel, Sweden and Norway all taking part. The first help to arrive came in the form of the British Royal Navy’s HMS Daring, she was the first ship to take aid and supplies to Zante and Argostoli, the crew of which are commemorated in Argostoli by a street named after the ship.
The Israelis formed rescue crews offering emergency medical aid, food and water to the people. An Israeli warship was used to take wounded people from Kefalonia to the city of Patras to be hospitalized.
The help offered by Israel to the people of Kefalonia is formally recognized and every year the local authorities hold an event to honor the members of the international forces that helped the locals. A street was named after Israel in recognition of the help offered by the Israelis. Various countries contributed after the earthquake. Sweden made the children’s hospital, to which there is now a street called ‘Sweden’ street. There are other wooden houses which were built by the Serbs.
The tragedy and sadness of this event shocked the very people who came to the islanders rescue. They faced scenes likened to a war zone.
Kefalonia was left battered, burning, smoldering and with practically nothing standing. Rescue workers reports say they encountered blacken bodies lying near a shoreline these people had been lying there for 2 days without food, water.
Rescuers witnessed people grey with the dust digging through the rubble in hope to find their lost relatives and possessions.
They say one of the worst things they encountered was an awful stench which filled the air and some people say they could taste it , the smell was that of putrefying flesh!
The recovery of people both living and those who had been so cruelly killed was very difficult as the infrastructure of the roads and tracks were mostly unusable with vehicles. Rescue workers used wheelbarrows and carts to transport people much needed aid.
People were left confused and in shock they had lost their homes, possessions and worse some had lost friends and family members all at once.
Tents were erected as make shift hospitals and operating theatres.
The August sweltering heat hampered the situation. People had to work hard doing heavy physical activities with little food, water and in the hottest month of the year.
So much damage was done to the towns and villages they had to be totally rebuilt, this was done to new plans with strict anti-seismic specifications, therefore, an earthquake similar to that of August 12th will most certainly result to far less destruction. Workers constructed a new architectural landscape, concrete, grey blocks in the place of century old Venetian red and ochre plastered buildings.
In the years that followed, reconstruction and economic development has restore the island to a normal pace. Gradually, many Kefalonia’s returned to their homeland investing in its development , retail businesses – with a special emphasis in the tourism industry.
Today Kefalonia faces the future with a flourishing tourism services industry, an ever improving infrastructure and an increasing population. Besides the expatriate Kefalonia’s returning to the island.
Kefalonia has become a favourite relocation destination among Europeans. If ever a place was blessed with every possible natural beauty Kefalonia is just that place.
Kefalonia and the surrounding Islands have suffered many small tremors, they are practically a daily occurrence however most are so insignificant they go mainly un-noticed by locals. Ten kilometers to the west of Kefalonia the seabed drops from a depth of 300 meters to an incredible 3 kilometers. Every month or so the ground shakes and every few decades there is a major earthquake: the last such event to impact the population was in August 1953.
Recent Reported Activity
In more recent times we have seen the strong Lefkada earthquake of August 14, 2003 an eerie coincidence of coming 50 years almost to the day after a devastating quake struck the nearby island of Kefalonia, which stirred memories among the island’s older residents. -Little damage was reported on Kefalonia and Ithaca.
Only three months afterwards an earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale caused minor damages to business, residential property, and other buildings within the Argostoli periphery. Damages were in the $1,000,000 range (300,000,000 drachmas).
On September 20, 2005, an early morning earthquake shook the southwestern part of the island especially near Lixouri and its villages. The earthquake measured 4.9 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was located off the island in the sea. Service vehicles took care of the areas and luckily there were no injuries or damages reported.
During my various trips to this wonderful homely Island I have only encountered one tremor, which was followed by some smaller aftershocks, if my memory serves me correct this one registered 4.2 on the Richter Scale. This happened in the early hours of the morning in late August 2006. According to people on the Island it was only a tremor, a rumble although quite strong, it was obviously nothing to worry about and it was not capable of any destruction. The whole room seemed to creak. There was a rumbling noise in the air, like light thunder and the breeze increased for a few moments then disappeared. Bottles and glasses rattled in the cupboards downstairs. The bed vibrated. It lasted for a few seconds then a short while followed by a couple of aftershocks.
I personally would never let the Islands legacy of Earthquakes deter me from living there. History shows this land has been destroyed many times over from Wars to earthquakes, like the phoenix rising from the ashes she rebuilds herself and her natural beauty will always shine through.
Her people have stayed strong, independent, hospitable and dignified throughout. It’s hard to imagine what the people went through in 1953, unfortunately it was mother nature at her angriest and something no one could have prevented.
Kefalonia is such an island of the most beautiful and dramatic contrasts it’s almost impossible to contemplate the tragedies and horror which have in recent years stripped the landscape and it’s people. When you absorb the wonderful scenery you do think to yourself how could such awful things have happened here.