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The Irpinia Earthquake: History, Movies to Watch

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In the face of catastrophic events, each person reacts in a different way: there are those who remain traumatized by them forever and those who manage, despite the difficulties, to use the most terrible adversities for their own personal growth.

The 1980 Irpinia earthquake occurred on 23 November 1980 which struck Campania and central-northern Basilicata. Defined as 6.9, level X of the Mercalli scale, with its epicenter between the municipalities of Teora, Castelnuovo di Conza and Conza della Campania, it caused approximately 280,000 displaced persons, 8,848 injured and, according to the most reliable estimates, 2,914 deaths.

The seismic area of ​​Irpinia has been hit over the centuries by numerous earthquakes with significant damage. The municipalities most affected were those of Castelnuovo di Conza (SA), Conza della Campania (AV), Laviano (SA), Lioni (AV), Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi (AV), Senerchia (AV), Calabritto (AV) and Santomenna (SA).


The results, however, continued over a wider area, affecting the entire central-southern area of ​​the Italian peninsula: injuries and collapses occurred in Naples as well, affecting numerous worn out or long-damaged buildings; in Poggioreale a building in via Stadera collapsed, probably due to construction defects, causing 52 deaths. Of the 679 districts that make up the eight areas hit internationally by the earthquake (Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Matera, Naples, Potenza, Salerno as well as Foggia), 506 (74%) were damaged.

The three municipalities most affected were those of Avellino (103 municipalities), Salerno (66) and Potenza (45). Thirty-six municipalities have had around 20,000 houses damaged or unrecoverable. In 244 municipalities (not epicentral) in the provinces of Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Matera, Foggia, Naples, Potenza and Salerno, 50,000 homes suffered very significant to medium-severe damage. Another 30,000 residences were slightly damaged.

The Damage Caused by the Earthquake in Irpinia

The dramatic extent of the earthquake was not immediately assessed; the first news broadcasts spoke of an “earthquake in Campania” because the total interruption of telecommunications had prevented the alarm from being activated. The names of the municipalities concerned have been added one after the other; entire urban centers have been obliterated, dozens and dozens of others have been severely damaged.

In the three days following the earthquake, the newspaper Il Mattino di Napoli described the catastrophe. On November 24, the newspaper headlined A minute of terror – The dead are hundreds, as there is no precise information from the affected area, but we were aware of the collapse of Via Stadera in Naples. The number of deaths, roughly increasing mainly due to serious communication and recognition problems, was then reduced to the official one, but the number of homeless people was never accurately assessed.

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Extent of the Irpinia Earthquake


The National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) has ascertained that the affected area has undergone three distinct phenomena along different faults, which occurred in about 40 seconds. After 40 seconds, located north-east of the first segment, the third quake occurred.

The fault reached the earth’s surface generating a clearly evident escarpment for about 35 km. The study of the recordings reveals a truly heterogeneous crustal structure and also an incredibly intricate damage process.

Excavations along the cliff of the fault have also made it possible to recognize and date the precursors of the earthquakes of 1980, which occurred in Irpinia. These reveal that the fault responsible for the Irpinia earthquake actually created earthquakes comparable to that of 1980 and that these occasions occur over time with a frequency of about 2000 years.

Reliefs and Delays


Beyond the structures, already dilapidated due to the earthquakes of 1930 as well as of 1962, another aspect that aggravated the results of the earthquake was the delay in rescue initiatives. The factors were numerous: the problem of access to emergency vehicles in the hinterland areas, due to the geographical isolation of the areas concerned, as well as the collapse of the bridges and access roads, the poor state of most of the structures (including those for electricity and also radio transmissions, the damage of which made remote communications practically impossible) and also the absence of civil protection that allowed rescue activities in a timely and coordinated manner. The first to explain this serious absence was the President of the Republic, Sandro Pertini. On 25 November, despite the contrary opinion of the Prime Minister Forlani and various other consultants, Pertini went by helicopter to the places of the catastrophe.

The Head of State forcefully denounced the delay and non-compliance with the aid, which would arrive in all the affected areas only after five days. The harsh words of the President of the Republic led to the immediate dismissal of the prefect of Avellino Attilio Lobefalo, and the resignation (later rejected) of the Interior Minister Virginio Rognoni. The Head of State’s speech had the additional effect of mobilizing a large number of volunteers who were of great help especially during the first week after the earthquake.

In Laviano, a town in which a fifth of the population died from the earthquake (303 deaths out of 1500 occupants), the first wooden houses (out of twenty) with solutions inserted were introduced in February 1981. April 25, 1981, 153 days after earthquake, the wooden houses became 150, for a total of 450 people housed.

Corruption in Reconstruction


Reconstruction was, however, also among the most terrible cases of speculation about a misfortune. As evidenced by a series of investigations by the judiciary, for which expressions such as Irpiniagate, Terremotopoli or the infinite earthquake, over the years doubtful interests have actually been introduced that have diverted funds to places that did not have the right, multiplying the variety of municipalities affected: 339 initially, they reached 643 in compliance with a decree of the then Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani in May 1981, reaching the last number of 687, or almost 8.4% of the total of Italian municipalities.

More than seventy centers have been completely destroyed or severely damaged and over two hundred have suffered extensive damage to the building stock. Hundreds of production and artisan factories were canceled with the loss of thousands of jobs and economic damage for tens of trillions of lire.

The number of municipalities affected, however, has been altered by shady political and Camorra maneuvers, which have increased over the years. The reconstruction, despite the large sum of public money paid, remained incomplete for decades. These neighborhoods have now become the main stronghold of the Camorra and one of the most aggressive commercial squares in the Campania region.

On the model of the earthquake in Friuli, the reconstruction in Irpinia was also focused on industrial revitalization. The territory did not present industrial characteristics even before the earthquake, the rain of funding was an unstoppable temptation for many. In seven years, twenty-six cooperative banks have opened their branches in the area of ​​the earthquake (nine in the province of Avellino alone), granting loans to companies in Northern Italy.

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Disappeared Loans

For the revitalization of twenty industrial areas between Campania and Basilicata, 7,762 billion lire have been allocated (about 8 billion euros in 2010). The last expense was twelve times more than expected in the province of Avellino and seventeen times in the district of Salerno. According to the latest report by the Court of Auditors, plant costs have risen to “about 27 times those envisaged in the original provisions”. 48.5% of commercial concessions (146 situations) were revoked.

The Court of Auditors accuses “the superficiality of the examinations and the lack of adequate controls”, accepted without “adequately assessing already vulnerable service circumstances and already initially weakened due to lack of professionalism and trust or in which the overestimation of the financial investment, in relation to entrepreneurial skills, led to the failure of the initiative. “In 2000, in fact, 76 companies were declared bankrupt, but only a small part of the contributions had actually been recovered.

The first estimate of the damage caused by the earthquake, carried out in 1981, spoke of about 8,000 billion lire. Implementing it by 2010, according to Sergio Rizzo, the estimate would exceed 66 billion euros.

Investigations on Loans


Regarding the investigation by the Mani Pulite section, Daniele Martini states: “in Irpinia the finance police has found barns transformed into Olympic-sized swimming pools that were never completed, or into holiday homes. i to multi-bankrupt entrepreneurs and also diamond watches given with excellent debauchery to state testers ”. In March 1987 some newspapers, including L’Unità as well as L’Espresso, denounced the fate of the Banca Popolare dell’Irpinia. Among those who took advantage of it was Ciriaco De Mita, owner of a large stock plan revalued thanks to the earthquake.

A long trial ended in October 1988 with the sentence: “According to the courts called to judge the conflict, it was right to ensure that the funds from the earthquake traveled through the Avellino financial company and that the Popolare is a financial institution of the DC Demiziana “. Upon hearing the sentence, on December 3 the Unit published a note with a significant title on the front page: “De Mita got rich with the earthquake”. 87 individuals will be involved in the examination of the earthquake including Ciriaco De Mita, Paolo Cirino Pomicino, Salverino De Vito, Vincenzo Scotti, Antonio Gava, Antonio Fantini, Francesco De Lorenzo, Giulio Di Donato and Commissioner Giuseppe Zamberletti.

Movies About the Earthquake in Irpinia

And After the Snow Fell

Irpinia, 1980. In the late afternoon of November 23, the life of the villages in the province of Avellino is devastated by a terrible earthquake that sows death and destruction. Moments of terror are soon replaced by the painful task of counting the dead and missing and the recognition of lifeless bodies by friends and family, as well as for Battista, who among the victims recognizes the little body of his friend Lucia, who died at just 9 years old.

To add further difficulties comes a heavy snowfall that makes the work of the rescuers even more tiring: soldiers, doctors and nurses, who will be joined by ordinary citizens – including Rocco, Maria and Giuseppe – who, voluntarily, they will support those most in need. Since then, the life of the inhabitants of Irpinia has never been the same. … And after it fell the snow is a drama film , directed by Donatella Baglivo, with Santi Bellina and Alba Cuomo.



Many years have passed since the 1980 earthquake devastated Irpinia. Later the reconstruction profoundly changed the topography, leaving the ruins to testify to the tragedy like open-air museums. Walking among these stones, immersed for some time in a dull silence, one experiences the embarrassing sensation of being observed. Stones that seem to claim a soul of their own, and that now seem to be horrified by an unexpected visit … short film shot in a place now immersed in abysmal silence.

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